Usable space for northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) has been reduced across South Texas rangelands because of the spread of non-native, invasive grasses. A native grass, tanglehead (Heteropogon contortus), has also rapidly expanded its dominance in South Texas within the past 25 yr. It has formed high-density monocultures, similar to non-native grasses, which are associated with losses of herbaceous diversity and bare ground, both key components of bobwhite habitat. The objectives of our research were to 1) determine selection-avoidance of invasive grass cover by bobwhites and 2) determine effects of invasive grass cover on vegetation characteristics.
We hypothesized the effects of tanglehead on bobwhite would be negative and similar to the effect of non-native grasses in the region. We recorded covey locations via helicopter surveys in December 2014 and 2015, with field measurements of bobwhite habitat at covey and random locations taken each spring. We measured grass and forb species richness, herbaceous vegetation height, woody-plant cover, tanglehead canopy cover, and non-native grass canopy cover at all covey detections and an equal number of random locations. We developed continuous selection ratios using Simple Saddlepoint Approximations to determine habitat selection by bobwhites. We also used quantile regression, at the 10th, 50th, and 90th quantiles, to determine relationships between invasive grass cover and vegetation factors. Bobwhites avoided areas of high canopy cover (> 20%) of all invasive grasses measured. We found negative relationships between native and non-native invasive grass cover and forb and grass species richness, as well as bare ground, and a positive relationship with herbaceous vegetation height at all quantiles modeled. Our results demonstrate the negative effects of increased tanglehead cover on native rangeland habitats, which aligns with similar non-native invasive grasses. Further expansion by tanglehead has the potential to significantly reduce usable space for bobwhites in South Texas.