IRNR researchers begin statewide quail decline modeling projectBy Leslie Lee
Across Texas, wild quail populations have been decreasing. Wildlife scientists continue to study many important aspects of the decline, such as habitat loss and disease occurrence. Researchers at the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources are taking another approach: stepping back and looking at the decline on a larger scale.
The research effort is one of the 13 projects funded by a $2 million biennial exceptional item from the Texas Legislature to support integrated approaches by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, collaborating with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, to use the resources of The Texas A&M University System and partner with other research institutions to address quail decline.
According to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, quail rank third among the state’s most popular game species, behind deer and dove. Quail hunters contribute to the $1.8 billion in annual hunting-related expenditures in Texas, as reported by the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
“Many quail studies have been more focused regionally or even within a county, but we’re attempting to look at explanatory factors that may explain quail declines, at landscape, ecoregion and statewide scales,” said Dr. Roel Lopez, IRNR director. “We hope to integrate not only changes in land demographics, land fragmentation and changes in agricultural land use, but also how population declines correlate with other factors, such as the spread of fire ants, disease occurrences and so forth.”
Using geospatial analysis and computer modeling, the researchers will conduct a meta-analysis, combining results from several other research efforts to create a wider look at population dynamics and spatial factors of quail decline, Lopez said. IRNR has undertaken large-scale analyses like this before, such as the Texas Land Trends project, Lopez said. This effort will be similar, analyzing trends in land use and habitat loss, but through the lens of quail population dynamics, he said.
“Quail have been studied for many years, and despite efforts to maintain populations, numbers continue to decline,” Lopez said. “I think that many quail biologists would recognize that loss and/or changes in habitat quality are a significant driver in declines. But, very few studies have tried to quantify that at regional or landscape scales.”
In addition to using geospatial analysis to identify important links between statewide land use changes, incidences of disease in different quail populations and declines in quail abundance, the Statewide Landscape Model Evaluating Quail Declines in Texas project will also provide management and policy recommendations for quail conservation and identify areas in Texas to concentrate those conservation efforts. Habitat restoration and management, and public-private partnerships, for both short-term and long-term management needs, at landscape and statewide scales, are some quail conservation options, Lopez said.
More information about IRNR’s wildlife and land conservation research is available online. To learn more about the entire quail decline initiative, see this AgriLife TODAY article, and for more information on projects funded by the initiative, see this article.