Declines in northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus; bobwhite) populations in the southeastern United States may be partially attributable to loss of early successional plant cover associated with greater use of herbicides in forest management. We tested effects of 5 levels of operational plantation establishment intensity on vegetation communities and structure important for bobwhite in 1–5-year-old loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) plantations (n = 4) in the Outer Coastal Plain Mixed Forest of Mississippi. We compared results with values reported in the literature to calculate usable space for winter food, loafing, nesting, and brood-rearing at 2 levels of spatial resolution. Treatments (k = 5) reflected a range of management intensities and were combinations of mechanical site preparation, chemical site preparation (CSP), and herbaceous weed control (HWC). Coverage of winter food plants in the least intensive treatment was more than double that in the most intensive; however, differences in usable space of winter food cover were negligible due to improved accessibility in more intensive treatments. Although CSP reduced coverage of nonpine woody plants across all years, loafing cover reached adequate levels by year 3 in all treatments. Usable nesting cover was <4% across all years and treatments and was nearly eliminated by the reduction in herbaceous cover and visual screening cover following broadcast HWC. Optimal brood-rearing habitat was virtually absent in all treatments and years due to the lack of conjoint occurrence of bare ground and forb canopy. Although bobwhite habitat may have been promoted by formerly widespread plantation establishment methods that involved wide-scale soil disturbance, those established using newer methods with less soil disturbance are likely inadequate for most bobwhite habitat requirements. Efforts to provide bobwhite habitat in plantation-dominated landscapes may have to rely on management of thinned mid-rotation stands and permanent landscape features such as rights-of-way. The value of young plantations for bobwhite may be increased by reducing management intensity or increasing spacing between planting rows, thus increasing time before crown closure and providing opportunity for understory manipulations.
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Vol. 74 • No. 3