Effects of Deer Browsing on Important Quail Food Plants

Some land managers think that the effects of increasing numbers of deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on habitat have been a factor in the long-term decline of northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) populations in the Southeast. We studied effects of deer browsing of selected quail foods in northern Florida on an area managed for quail and supporting a population of about 40 deer/km2. Periodic observations of permanently tagged plants indicated use of some taxa by deer, especially in early autumn. In sample quadrats from which deer were excluded, seed production was greater for partridge peas (Cassia nictitans and C. fasciculata) (P = 0.096) and butterfly pea (Centrosema virginiana) (P = 0.007) than in quadrats open to deer. Also, vegetative cover was greater inside exclosures for partridge peas (P = 0.013) and beggarweeds (Desmodium spp.) (P = 0.009). Trends for seeds and vegetation of all genera studied, except milk peas (Galactia spp.), suggested reductions resulting from deer browsing. Although we demonstrated that deer reduced seed production of some important quail foods, we do not know if this reduction affected the quail population. The question remains whether managed quail populations such as the one we studied are limited by their food supplies, even in the presence of a large deer population.

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