Northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) populations have experienced severe declines for several decades, and declines have been particularly precipitous in the southern United States. These declines are partially attributable to large-scale conversions of potential habitat to short-rotation pine (Pinus spp.) forests managed for wood fiber production and fire exclusion in pine-dominated landscapes. We used standard arthropod sampling techniques, human-imprinted bobwhite chicks, and vegetation response to evaluate effects of different understory vegetation management practices on brood habitat quality within a commercially managed pine forest in Louisiana, USA, during 2002–2005. Specifically, we evaluated effects of mowing, prescribed fire during the growing season, prescribed fire in combination with imazapyr application, and no vegetation management on arthropod abundance and diversity, vegetation response, and the probability of bobwhite chicks successfully capturing an arthropod. Bobwhite chicks were more successful at capturing arthropods, and arthropod abundance and diversity were greatest, in plant communities managed using prescribed fire and imazapyr. Forest stands managed using a combination of fire and imazapyr were managed primarily to benefit the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis; RCW). Our findings suggest that management directed toward improving forest condition for RCWs improves habitat quality for brooding bobwhites. However, bobwhite chicks in our study area were less successful at capturing arthropods than were chicks in other studies in the southeastern United States. Brood-rearing habitat in pine forests similar to those we studied may be of generally poor quality, and could be related to precipitous declines of bobwhites in the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Managers should recognize that creating high-quality brood habitat in forests similar to those we studied will require more intensive management of understory vegetation than we studied.
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Vol. 72 • No. 6