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Impact of harvest on survival of a heavily hunted game bird population

January 1, 2010

Context. Despite their economic importance and intensive management, many game bird species, including the northern bobwhite Colinus virginianus, are in decline. Declines may be explained, at least in part, by low survival due perhaps to poor habitat quality, high predation or excessive hunting pressure.
Aims. This study sought to estimate and model annual/seasonal survival probabilities, to evaluate factors influencing them and to determine the cause-specific mortality rates for northern bobwhites subject to varying levels of harvest on the Babcock–Webb Wildlife Management Area (BW area), south Florida, USA.
Methods. We applied Cox’s proportional hazard models to data collected from 2066 radio-tagged bobwhites during 2002–2008 to test for intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting survival and the non-parametric cumulative incidence function estimator to estimate cause-specific mortality rates.
Key results. Mean annual survival (0.091 ± 0.006) in the BW area was lower than most estimates reported for other bobwhite populations. Annual survival differed between adults (0.111 ± 0.008) and juveniles (0.052 ± 0.008), and varied among years. Survival in winter (October–March; 0.295 ± 0.014) was similar to that in summer (April–September; 0.307 ± 0.013). Density of food strips (i.e. long and narrow food plots) did not influence survival, but hunting effort (number of hunters per day per km2) had a substantial negative impact on survival. In the lightly hunted field trial zone, winter (October–March) survival was significantly higher (0.414 ± 0.035) than in the other more heavily hunted management zones (0.319 ± 0.016). Cause-specific mortality analyses revealed that bobwhite mortality during summer (April–September) was mainly due to raptor (39.7%) and mammalian predation (35.6%), whereas hunting was the primary cause of mortality during
winter (47.1%).
Conclusions. Our results highlight the potential role of harvest as an important cause of the northern bobwhite population declines in south Florida. High mortality during winter may reduce recruitment of juveniles to the reproductive segment of the population, and ultimately the population growth.
Implications. Our results suggest that reduction in hunting pressure may be necessary to reverse the declining population trends in heavily hunted game species in public lands, such as the northern bobwhites in the BW area.

Publication Year 2010
Title Impact of harvest on survival of a heavily hunted game bird population
DOI 10.1071/WR09177
Authors Virginie Rolland, Jeffrey A. Hostetler, Tommy C. Hines, H. Franklin Percival, Madan K. Oli
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Research
Index ID 70242674
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse