Forest Clearings Management: Insects and Vegetation for Wild Turkey Broods

Insects and herbaceous vegetation important to young eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo sylvestris) may be enhanced in forested areas by managing clearings. Natural resource agencies in Virginia and other eastern states have committed significant resources to create and maintain forest clearings to provide habitat for wild turkey broods in predominantly forested areas. However, techniques used to manage clearings often lack definitive ecological justifications. We compared effectiveness of 4 management regimes on forest clearings typical of those used by wildlife managers in the eastern United States to produce insects and vegetation beneficial to turkey broods. Ranging from low to high intensity in development and maintenance, treatments were 1) mowing; 2) disking and liming; 3) planting ladino clover (Trifolium repens latum), mowing, and liming; and 4) planting a perennial grass-forb mixture, mowing and liming. Insect production did not differ between high intensity (3 and 4 above) and low intensity (1 and 2 above) treatments (P=0.19). Mowing may have suppressed insect numbers briefly before increasing them, while disking apparently delayed insect production. We observed several year and period differences in insect dry weights perhaps attributable to timing of vegetation treatments or natural environmental fluctuations. Areas receiving high intensity treatments had higher clover cover estimates (P=0.081) and more plant species per plot (P=0.036). All treated areas had adequate brood vegetation dry weight, plant height, and herbaceous cover estimates. Herbaceous vegetation and insects associated with forest clearings may be important for other wildlife species besides wild turkeys. Managers should consider effects on all species of interest as they weigh potential gains from intensive management practices against the extra cost and labor involved with those treatments. Managers can promote herbaceous ground cover and insects useable by wild turkey broods with simple, low-intensity management techniques.

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