Non-Linear Density Dependence in a Stochastic Wild Turkey Harvest Model
McGhee, Jay D.
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Current eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) harvest models assume density-independent population dynamics despite indications that populations are subject to a form of density dependence. I suggest that both density-dependent and independent factors operate simultaneously on wild turkey populations, where the relative strength of each is governed by population density. I attempt to estimate the form of the density dependence relationship in wild turkey population growth using the theta-Ricker model. Density-independent relationships are explored between production and rainfall and temperature correlates for possible inclusion in the harvest model. Density-dependent and independent effects are then combined in the model to compare multiple harvest strategies. To estimate a functional relationship between population growth and density, I fit the theta-Ricker model to harvest index time-series from 11 state wildlife agencies. To model density-independent effects on population growth, I explored the ability of rainfall, temperature, and mast during the nesting and brooding season to predict observed production indices for 7 states. I then built a harvest model incorporating estimates to determine their influence on the mean and variability of the fall and spring harvest. Estimated density-dependent growth rates produced a left-skewed yield curve maximized at ~40% of carrying capacity, with large residuals. Density-independent models of production varied widely and were characterized by high model uncertainty. Results indicate a non-linear density dependence effect strongest at low population densities. High residuals from the model fit indicate that extrinsic factors will overshadow density-dependent factors at most population densities. However, environmental models were weak, requiring more data with higher precision. This indicates that density-independence can be correctly and more easily modeled as random error. The constructed model uses both density dependence and density-independent stochastic error as a tool to explore harvest strategies for biologists. The inclusion of weak density dependence changes expected harvest rates little from density-independent models. However, it does lower the probability of overharvest at low densities. Alternatives to proportional harvesting are explored to reduce the uncertainty in annual harvests.
- Doctoral Dissertations