In a manipulative experiment, we tested effects of select elements of landscape structure and composition on winter survival of northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) at Ames Plantation, Tennessee, USA. We hypothesized that abundance of closed canopy forested habitats (52% of the landscape) on Ames diminished usable space for bobwhite and provided usable space for a suite of important predators, thereby contributing to low winter survival. To test this hypothesis we divided a 2,217-ha portion of the property into 4 approximately equal areas. We altered landscape structure and composition by converting approximately 33% of the timber to early successional herbaceous plant communities on 2 treatment sites, which reduced percentage of landscape and edge density of closed canopy forest and increased percentage of landscape in early successional herbaceous communities, and left 2 control sites in their former composition. During one pretreatment year (1998–1999) and 3 posttreatment years (1999–2000, 2000–2001, 2001–2002), we estimated winter (15 Oct–10 Apr) survival on treatment and control sites from a radiomarked sample of 920 bobwhites. We used Cox Proportional Hazard models to test for effects of treatment (forest conversion) and covariates describing landscape structure and composition (% closed canopy forest, % early successional herbaceous, wooded edge density) on winter survival at multiple spatial scales. Winter survival on the treatment sites pooled across the 4 winter seasons was 41% compared to 32% for control sites. Additionally, for each 1 m/ha increase in closed canopy woods edge density within winter covey ranges, risk of mortality increased 0.3%. Our results suggest composition at the landscape scale and landscape structure at the local scale influence winter survival of bobwhite. Management strategies that alter composition and structure and increase usable space may be effective in mitigating winter mortality thereby altering population trajectories. Typical bobwhite management plans focus on improving quality of herbaceous vegetation structure within existing herbaceous patches, however, population processes may work at larger spatial scales influencing design and implementation of conservation programs.
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Vol. 72 • No. 4