The opening of the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana on 18 May 2011 to relieve historic flooding along the lower Mississippi river subsequently inundated thousands of acres of bottomland forest in the Atchafalaya basin. Since 2001, we have conducted Meleagris gallopavo silvestris (Eastern Wild Turkey) population ecology research on the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area, located approximately 30 km south of the Morganza spillway. In expectation of the Morganza spillway opening, between 11 and 14 May, we captured and fitted 5 (1 M, 4 F) adult Eastern Wild Turkeys with µGPS transmitters to monitor turkey response to basin flooding. By 19 May 2011, our study area was inundated with >3 m of flood waters, and remained completely inundated until 11 June 2011. Via radio-telemetry, we confirmed one female was depredated immediately before flood waters inundated our study site, and one female survived and reached dry ground created by receding water on 16 June. A second female lived 21 days and made circuitous movements within the tree canopy before dying, and the lone male died after 31 days. Movements of the second female through the canopy during flooding suggested a deliberate search for topographically higher areas within her range. Our findings suggest that rapid, widespread flooding conditions created by opening of the Morganza spillway likely negatively affected Wild Turkey populations across the Atchafalaya basin through direct reductions in survival. Further research is needed to assess how flood mitigation efforts affect Wild Turkey populations in floodplains along the Mississippi River and other alluvial floodplains.
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Vol. 12 • No. 1