Herbicide and Prescribed Fire as Habitat Management Tools for Northern Bobwhite in Conservation Reserve Program Fields

Kentucky-31 tall fescue (Festuca arundicacea) was a common planting established on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields throughout the southeastern United States during the late 1980s and 1990s. Fescue-dominated grassland communities on CRP fields offer poor quality nesting, brood-rearing, and foraging habitat for northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) because of dense vegetation, high litter cover, low bare ground, and low plant diversity. Herbicide applications have been shown to reduce fescue and release early successional plant communities, and therefore may enhance bobwhite habitat quality. However, the relative efficacy of herbicide used in conjunction with fire has not been investigated. We tested singular and joint effects of herbicide (glyphosate) application and burning on vegetation in fescue CRP fields in east Mississippi. We tested the following 4 treatments: spring glyphosate application, spring burn, spring burn and glyphosate application, and control. All manipulations modified plant communities and enhanced bobwhite brood-rearing habitat to varying degrees. Spring burn increased bare ground and decreased litter cover (P?0.05). Spring herbicide application increased forbs, legumes, and annual weeds, but decreased grass and fescue canopy (P?0.05). Spring burn/herbicide application increased forbs, legumes, annual weeds, and bare ground but decreased grass canopy, fescue canopy, and litter cover (P?0.05). Canopy coverage of bobwhite food plants was greatest in spring burn/herbicide (P?0.05). Herbicide applied alone and in conjunction with burning enhanced bobwhite brood-rearing habitat in fescue CRP fields in east Mississippi by promoting early successional plant communities. This information has implications for implementation of wildlife management in federal agricultural multiple-year land retirement programs and other cool season grasslands not enrolled in federal programs.

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