Pittman, H. A., and D. G. Krementz. 2016. Effects of short-rotation early-growing season prescribed fire on eastern wild turkey nest ecology in the Ozark Highlands, Arkansas, USA. PLoS ONE 11(1):e0147317.
Landscape scale short-rotation early-growing season prescribed fire in upland hardwood forests represents a recent shift in management strategies across eastern upland forests. It is a departure from stand scale management regimes to landscape scale (>10 000 ha) management regimes. This being so, considerable commitments and resources are being made to this management strategy and the effects on wildlife in upland forests, especially those dominated by hardwood canopy species, are relatively unknown. We initiated this study to assess whether this management strategy affects eastern wild turkey reproductive ecology on the White Rock Ecosystem Restoration Area of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. We marked 67 wild turkey hens with 110 g Global Positioning System (GPS) Platform Transmitting Terminals in 2012 and 2013 on the WRERA to examine nest-site selection and estimate nest survival. We estimated nest survival and nest-site selection of wild turkey in forest units managed with short-rotation early-growing season prescribed fire (treated) and units absent of prescribed fire (untreated). We then compared these estimates to determine any differences in nest survival and nest-site selection in treated and untreated units. We found that nest survival was slightly higher in treated units than untreated but not significantly greater (S = 0.24 [0.13, 0.39], S = 0.2 [0.09, 0.37] respectively). We also found that wild turkey in treated units selected nest-sites based on different characteristics than in untreated units. In treated units wild turkey selected nest-sites with less visual concealment from 1 to 2 m in height, fewer large trees (>20 cm DBH), more grass ground cover, and more open canopies than random sites while wild turkey in untreated units did not select for these characteristics. In untreated units wild turkey selected nest-sites that were closer to roads than random sites while wild turkey in treated units did not select for this characteristic. In both treated and untreated units wild turkey selected nest-sites with more visual concealment from 0 to 1 m in height and more woody stem ground cover than random sites. In conclusion, wild turkey nest-survival and some nest-site characteristics are likely improved by short-rotation early-growing season prescribed fire, but for significant benefits to be realized managers will need to continue the commitment to the landscape scale management strategy.