Declining northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) populations during the past 30 years have prompted managers to seek ways to improve habitat quality for this species. Reductions in frequency of prescribed fire throughout considerable expanses of mature pine (Pinus spp.) forests have resulted in closed-canopy conditions, predominantly woody understory conditions, and a loss of early-successional habitats needed by bobwhites. Herbicides, particularly in conjunction with prescribed fire, may be useful for managing these pine forests to benefit the bobwhite and other early-successional species, but effects of herbicides in combination with fire are not well understood. Therefore, we used 3 similar-aged, mature pine stands to evaluate vegetative response to selective herbicides with prescribed fire with respect to bobwhite nesting and broodrearing habitats. Our treatments were imazapyr with fire, imazapyr combined with glyphosate with fire, and dormant-season prescribed fire only. Plant diversity tended to decline on herbicide treatments during the first year but increased substantially on imazapyr plots during the second growing season following a burn. Bobwhite food plants increased following application of imazapyr during the first growing season and were greater for both herbicide treatments than burning alone during the second growing season. Abundance of hardwoods declined on both herbicide treatments. However, no treatments produced bare-ground percentages known to be selected by bobwhites, and only prescribed fire alone created and maintained suitable escape cover. Overall, imazapyr with fire provided the greatest net improvement in vegetative conditions for bobwhites and retained floristic diversity. We recommend that managers target areas in which vegetative conditions have progressed to where burning alone is incapable of restoring early-successional plant communities needed by the bobwhite and other species and apply imazapyr with fire to create diverse, patchy habitat for bobwhites.
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