Although previous research and theory has suggested that wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) populations may be subject to some form of density dependence, there has been no effort to estimate and incorporate a density-dependence parameter into wild turkey population models. To estimate a functional relationship for density dependence in wild turkey, we analyzed a set of harvest-index time series from 11 state wildlife agencies. We tested for lagged correlations between annual harvest indices using partial autocorrelation analysis. We assessed the ability of the density-dependent theta-Ricker model to explain harvest indices over time relative to exponential or random walk growth models. We tested the homogeneity of the density-dependence parameter estimates (θ) from 3 different harvest indices (spring harvest no. reported harvest/effort, survey harvest/effort) and calculated a weighted average based on each estimate's variance and its estimated covariance with the other indices. To estimate the potential bias in parameter estimates from measurement error, we conducted a simulation study using the theta-Ricker with known values and lognormally distributed measurement error. Partial autocorrelation function analysis indicated that harvest indices were significantly correlated only with their value at the previous time step. The theta-Ricker model performed better than the exponential growth or random walk models for all 3 indices. Simulation of known parameters and measurement error indicated a strong positive upward bias in the density-dependent parameter estimate, with increasing measurement error. The average density-dependence estimate, corrected for measurement error ranged 0.25 ≤ θ̂ ≤ 0.49, depending on the amount of measurement error and assumed spring harvest rate. We infer that density dependence is nonlinear in wild turkey, where growth rates are maximized at 39–42% of carrying capacity. The annual yield produced by density-dependent population growth will tend to be less than that caused by extrinsic environmental factors. This study indicates that both density-dependent and density-independent processes are important to wild turkey population growth, and we make initial suggestions on incorporating both into harvest management strategies.
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Vol. 71 • No. 3