Brood cover and food resources for wild turkeys following silvicultural treatments in mature upland hardwoods
Closed-canopy, upland hardwood forests with limited understory development provide suboptimal habitat for wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) broods and may lead to low recruitment. Various forest management practices have been used to stimulate understory development within upland hardwoods, but evaluation of such practices on cover and food resources for wild turkey broods is incomplete. Therefore, we compared effects of 7 silvicultural treatments (repeated fire, shelterwood harvest, shelterwood harvest with one fire, retention cut, retention cut with repeated fire, retention cut with herbicide, and retention cut with herbicide and repeated fire) on cover and food resources for wild turkey broods in mature upland hardwoods of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province, Tennessee, USA, during 2000–2009. Canopy reduction treatments enhanced understory conditions for wild turkey broods. Eight years following initial treatment, light infiltration in retention cuts with repeated fire was 6 times greater than that within control, 5 times greater than that within shelterwood harvests, and twice that within shelterwood harvests with one prescribed fire. Woody species dominated understory composition following all treatments and controls. Understory disturbance (prescribed fire and broadcast herbicide treatments) reduced density of stems >1.4?m tall and <11.4?cm diameter at breast height (dbh) and created less visual obstruction above 1?m compared with canopy reduction treatments without understory disturbance. Following canopy reduction without repeated prescribed fire, woody vegetation exceeded ideal height for wild turkey broods after 3 growing seasons and light infiltration returned to control levels within 7 years. Soft mast production was greatest following treatments that included canopy reduction, but varied by year and site. Invertebrate biomass did not increase following any treatment, but all treatment areas contained enough invertebrates to meet the protein requirement for a wild turkey brood (10.1?poults) for 28 days on <30?ha. Where wild turkey is a focal species and understory structure in mature upland hardwoods is limiting for broods, we recommend reducing canopy coverage to 60–70% and using low-intensity fire every 3–5 years to enhance and maintain brood cover and increase food availability. © 2014 The Wildlife Society.