Texas quail populations are declining, but fire ants aren’t the culprit
By: Norman Martin
Recently, Brad Dabbert with Texas Tech's Department of Natural Resources Management sat down for a “Dr. Dale on Quail” podcast. Dale Rollins is a retired professor and extension specialist with the Texas A&M's AgriLife Quail Initiative Project and a graduate of Texas Tech's range management program (1983). Here's part of the conversation dealing with the effect of fire ants on quail across the southeastern half of Texas.
Anecdotal stories targeting fire ants for the decline of ground nesting birds, most notably quail and turkeys in Texas, don't really carry that much scientific firepower.
Asked if legendary, aggressive ants are a major cause in the reduction of quail in Texas, Brad Dabbert, the lead scientist with Tech's Quail Tech Alliance and the Burnett Foundation Endowed Professor of Quail Ecology with Texas Tech's Department of Natural Resources Management, said, “I'm going to say not guilty. They would be far down the list of things to be concerned about, especially from the standpoint there is not much we can do about it anyway.”
Landowners and hunters would do better putting their money and time toward habitat management, predator reduction and supplemental feed at certain times of the year, he said.
Dabbert explained the time in which quail are most vulnerable is during pipping, the time they break out of the egg. They use an egg tooth located on their beak to break the egg, and as they do fluid leaks out of the egg and can attract fire ants. However, that doesn't mean fire ants will wipe out an entire nesting season. The impact is determined by how much ant activity there is in an area.
“When you see a picture of thousands of fire ants in a small area, it is easy to conclude the ants can have a huge impact, but in science we have to actually measure that because a lot of things that appear so aren't really so. There are a lot of other factors that play a large role,” Dabbert said.
Red imported fire ants are a very aggressive, efficient competitor ant species. Since the 1950s in Texas, the ant has been spreading north, west and south. They now infest the more than the eastern two-thirds of the state, and some urban areas in western Texas.
Dabbert, who joined the Texas Tech faculty in 1996, is a native of Ardmore, Oklahoma, and received his doctorate from Oklahoma State University. He serves as research project director of the Quail-Tech Alliance, a partnership between Tech's natural resources management department and Dallas-based Quail First.
The research focuses on investigating the potential benefits or detriments of supplemental feeding; understanding the factors that influence over-winter survival of adults and summer-to-fall survival of the brood; and refining the ways prescribed burning, brush modification and livestock grazing are used as tools of habitat management.
CONTACT: Warren Conway, Bricker Endowed Chair in Wildlife Management and Chairperson, Department of Natural Resources Management, Texas Tech University at (806) 4-6579 or email@example.com
0715NM21 / PHOTO: (top, left) Scott Bauer – USDA-ARS
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Editor: Norman Martin
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