Effects of a gradient of site preparation intensities on wildlife habitat and loblolly pine productivity in the Lower Coastal Plain of North Carolina
Marsh, Graham McLean
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Intensively managed loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) forests are commonly established using combinations of mechanical and chemical site preparation and herbaceous weed control (HWC) treatments to manage competing vegetation and increase pine production. However, few long-term studies have described relationships between intensity of site preparation and effects on plant communities important for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus). Understanding potential tradeoffs between increasing pine productivity and wildlife habitat is important because pine plantations encompass considerable hectrage in the southeastern U.S. and offer conservation opportunities. Therefore, I examined the effects of 6 treatments of increasing intensity via combinations of mechanical (wide spacing and strip shear or narrow spacing and roller chop) and chemical (application or no application) site preparation treatments with HWC (broadcast or banded) on food plants from 1 to 8 years after site preparation in loblolly pine plantations (n = 6) in the Lower Coastal Plain of North Carolina. Changes in cover of woody shrubs and vines through use of chemical site preparation were the major driver of differences in food plants for white-tailed deer and northern bobwhites. The edaphic conditions of the region produce a low abundance of quality herbaceous food plants beneficial to deer and quail following disturbance. Instead, deer browse was limited to woody shrubs and vines, even from an early age. Grasses dominated total herbaceous cover and quail food plant cover for the first 3-4 years on all treatments. Legumes and other forbs important for deer and quail were sparse regardless of site preparation intensity. Mechanical and chemical site preparation techniques had short lived (≤ 4 yrs) effects on grass, forb percent cover and species richness, but long-term effects on woody and vine forages. Increasing management intensity by including broadcast HWC or roller chop/narrow spacing mechanical site preparation did not result in additive reductions in cover or richness of woody food plants. However, broadcast HWC reduced grass and forb cover in the first year post-treatment. Wide row spacing and banded HWC benefited forages within pine plantations. Chemical site preparation can be paired with wide spacing to maximize herbaceous plant growth that may be important for wildlife, particularly in the first few years after site preparation.