Iowa researchers track mammal predator DNA

Monitoring the health of wild turkey populations is part of Dan Kaminski’s every day job. Kaminski is a wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He’s stationed at the Boone Wildlife Research Station in Boone, Iowa, north of Des Moines in the center of the state. In the spring and early summer, he and his team attach radio transmitters to a number of hens, then check in on them regularly to see when they initiate nesting, spend time on/off their nest,  and overall productivity of nesting effort.

This year they monitored hens that laid and incubated eggs in 60 nests. Of those nests, 10 hatched and produced baby turkeys, called poults. Beyond attaching transmitters to turkeys well before the breeding season has begun, he and his team take great care not to interfere with wild turkeys as they go about their business of, hopefully, producing more birds for years to come.

“Once a nest has either hatched or failed, we get permission from the landowners wherever the nests may be, then go in and get the unhatched eggs or egg remains for testing,” Kaminski said. “Any eggs left whole go to the University of Tennessee, where fertilization rates are being studied.”  Egg remains in nests destroyed by predators are swabbed for mammalian DNA, an element of Kaminski’s work being supported by Turkeys For Tomorrow. Swabbing and testing work on such egg remains from this past spring are currently underway.

“Once the successful nests have hatched, we follow the hens and poults,” he said. “We count the poults once per week to track poult survival.”

As the weeks wear on, the team collects turkey carcasses from any mortalities and record the information that can be gleaned from those. Kaminski targets a September deadline for the assembly of data from this spring.

“I can’t offer any concrete conclusions yet but, just from anecdotal impressions, as it looks like nesting success this year was about the same as last year, which came in at 14 percent,” he said. 

For scientific terms, a successful nest is any nest that results in the hatching of at least one poult.

“Poult survival after hatching was probably higher this year,” Kaminski said, “likely due to drier conditions. Last year during the hatch we had several heavy thunderstorms right at the peak time of hatching.”

Photo credit: Ron Jolly_TFT

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