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Document Type

Dissertation - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Lester D. Flake


I investigated resource selection patterns, survival, reproduction, and recruitment of Merriam’s turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) in a xeric ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) ecosystem in the southern Black Hills, South Dakota. Winter survival of female Merriam’s turkeys associated with supplemental food from livestock feeding or farmsteads was not different (P = 0.70) from females that wintered in forest habitats. Turkeys selected for open to mid-canopy (0-70%) mature (>22.9 cm diameter at breast height [DBH]) structural stage pine stands for feeding sites. During the hunting period, gobbling activity was lower (P = 0.001) in a hunted population than a nonhunted population, presumably due to the negative association between gobbling and subsequent disturbance of flocks by hunters. Currently, the spring hunting season starts before most females have initiated nests, and it encapsulates the second gobbling peak. Daily movements (Spider Distances) of females decreased abruptly from prelaying to laying behaviors, and movements less than 364.9 m for eastern turkeys, 115.0 m for Rio Grande turkeys, and 331.0 m for Merriam’s turkeys were indicative of a nest initiation; information on daily movements can be used to improve estimates of nesting parameters. Merriam’s turkeys had higher nesting rates and nest success estimates than most Merriam’s turkey populations found elsewhere in the current range. Supplemental feeding at farmsteads did not enhance nesting rates or nest success for adult females. Successful nests were on steeper slopes, had greater visual obstruction, and greater total ground level vegetation and shrub cover than unsuccessful nests. Precipitation during the incubation period was also an important variable predicting nest success. Fifty-four percent of poult mortality occurred 0-7 days posthatch and poult survival to 4 weeks posthatch averaged 33%. Females with poults selected for meadow habitats that were near the edge of pine stands and shrub patches, had greater total ground level vegetation and shrub cover, and had greater visual obstruction than random sites. Survival of poults ≤14 days posthatch decreased during cold periods and during or immediately following periods of rainfall. Poult survival increased when visual obstruction was greater, and when biomass of Coleoptera was higher. Although supplemental feeding at farmsteads (50-91% of the population) did not enhance survival and reproduction for adult female Merriam’s turkeys in the southern Black Hills, I expect populations to benefit from the continued existence of livestock feeding operations. Perhaps the greatest benefit of livestock feeding operations is the expansion of available winter habitats through provision of emergency food sources. Forest management for open to mid-canopy, mature structural stage, mast-producing pine stands will ensure the availability of winter habitat in the southern Black Hills. Monitoring rainfall and temperature data during May and June may provide an index of annual nest success and poult recruitment. Resource managers should maintain 1170 kg/ha of herbaceous biomass for brood habitat through 1 August.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Merriam's turkey -- Ecology -- Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)
Merriam's turkey -- Ecology -- South Dakota


Includes bibliographical references (page 180-197)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2013 Chad P. Lehman. All rights reserved.