Renovating Bobwhite Habitat Using Herbicides

Linda Benedict  |  5/5/2005 7:49:12 PM

Michael J. Chamberlain

The Northern bobwhite, a member of the quail family, has a long history in the southeastern United States and for decades has been a premiere game species of sports enthusiasts. Historically, bobwhite populations in the Southeast were associated with either agricultural areas or fire-maintained pine forests, such as the longleaf pine savannahs of the southeastern coastal plain. Historic bobwhite habitats have undergone considerable change, however, which overall has produced negative effects for bobwhite populations.

Although prescribed fire is crucial to maintain quality habitats in pine forests for bobwhite, its use has drastically declined across southeastern landscapes. Furthermore, bobwhite populations have been affected negatively by intensive forest management, mainly because vegetative conditions needed by bobwhites to reproduce successfully and survive are often not present in forests managed intensively for fiber production. Recent developments of selective herbicides capable of targeting specific plant species and promoting plants beneficial to many wildlife species have offered promise of promoting bobwhite populations in pine forests.

Within pine-dominated landscapes, bobwhite are typically associated with understory habitats containing abundant legumes and grasses. Although regular prescribed burning (at least every three years) can maintain habitats containing these resources, reductions in prescribed fire result in understory conditions dominated by woody saplings and vines. Imazypyr, a selective herbicide, reduces woody saplings and vines and promotes legumes and beneficial grasses. Thus, applying Imazypyr to understory vegetation within pine forests will likely improve habitat for bobwhite. Evidence to support this hypothesis has been based primarily on small-plot research. Because bobwhite populations are maintained across landscapes, however, the research needed to be expanded.

In September 2001, the LSU AgCenter initiated a three-year research program on the Jackson-Bienville Wildlife Management Area in north central Louisiana. The goal is to examine bobwhite response to landscape-level management of pine habitats using selective herbicides like Imazypyr. During the study, Imazypyr will be applied to renovate understory conditions within pine forests. Following application, researchers will measure the bobwhite response, including habitat use, movements, survival, nesting ecology and chick foraging patterns within habitats manipulated with herbicides and other habitats used by bobwhites. Distribution and abundance of bobwhites across the entire landscape will be checked seasonally and compared to adjacent landscapes managed without herbicides.

With continual reductions in prescribed fire in pine forests, managers are constantly searching for techniques to allow them to best manage wildlife and other forest resources. This research program will provide needed information on the effects of applying selective herbicides on a wildlife species with a historic past and, we hope, a bright future in Louisiana.

Michael J. Chamberlain, Assistant Professor, School of Renewable Natural Resources, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the spring 2002 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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