Since 1980, northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) range-wide populations declined 3.9% annually. Within the West Gulf Coastal Plain Bird Conservation Region in the south-central United States, populations of this quail species have declined 6.8% annually. These declines sparked calls for land use change and prompted implementation of various conservation practices. However, to effectively reverse these declines and restore northern bobwhite to their former population levels, habitat conservation and management efforts must target establishment and maintenance of sustainable populations. To provide guidance for conservation and restoration of habitat capable of supporting sustainable northern bobwhite populations in the West Gulf Coastal Plain, we modeled their spatial distribution using landscape characteristics derived from 1992 National Land Cover Data and bird detections, from 1990 to 1994, along 10-stop Breeding Bird Survey route segments. Four landscape metrics influenced detections of northern bobwhite: detections were greater in areas with more grassland and increased aggregation of agricultural lands, but detections were reduced in areas with increased density of land cover edge and grassland edge. Using these landscape metrics, we projected the abundance and spatial distribution of northern bobwhite populations across the entire West Gulf Coastal Plain. Predicted populations closely approximated abundance estimates from a different cadre of concurrently collected data but model predictions did not accurately reflect bobwhite detections along species-specific call-count routes in Arkansas and Louisiana. Using similar methods, we also projected northern bobwhite population distribution circa 1980 based on Land Use Land Cover data and bird survey data from 1976 to 1984. We compared our 1980 spatial projections with our spatial estimate of 1992 populations to identify areas of population change. Additionally, we used our projection of the spatial distribution and abundance of bobwhite to predict areas of population sustainability. Our projections of population change and sustainability provide guidance for targeting habitat conservation and rehabilitation efforts for restoration of northern bobwhite populations in the West Gulf Coastal Plain.
Additional publication details
Spatial models of northern bobwhite populations for conservation planning