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Responses of white-tailed deer and northern bobwhite food plants to a gradient of stand-establishment intensities in pocosin pine plantations

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  • Associate Editor: Demarais

Abstract

Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) plantations are established using various treatments to manage competing vegetation and increase pine production. Although young pine plantations historically supported early successional vegetation communities that contained abundant wildlife forage, increasing intensity of stand-establishment treatments, particularly herbicides, has caused concern regarding potential effects on composition, availability, and quality of wildlife forage within young pine plantations. Few long-term studies have described relationships between intensity of site preparation and effects on important forage plants for 2 economically and ecologically important game species: white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). Therefore, we examined effects of 6 treatments of increasing stand-establishment intensity via combinations of mechanical and chemical site preparation with herbaceous weed-control on deer and bobwhite food plants from 1 year to 8 years after site preparation in loblolly pine plantations (n = 6) within pocosins in the Lower Coastal Plain of North Carolina, USA, during summers of 2002–2005, 2007–2009. Although woody and vine forage plants for deer and quail were common on all treatments, chemical site preparation resulted in long-term decreases (approx. 50% for 8 yr) in coverage of these plants. Type of mechanical site preparation–spacing and herbaceous weed-control had few effects on woody and herbaceous deer and quail food plants. Dissimilar from research in other regions, reduction in woody cover did not provide a concurrent increase in herbaceous food plants. Because of relatively poor forage quality in pocosin habitats, vegetation management practices may reduce deer and quail food quantity without increasing quality. However, because abundance of low-quality forage is high in pocosin habitats, localized forage reductions due to site-preparation techniques may not affect overall carrying capacity in these areas. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.

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