Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Burger Jr., Loren W.

Committee Member

Riffell, Samuel K.

Committee Member

Wang, Guiming

Committee Member

Smith, Mark D.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Forest Resources (Wildlife Ecology)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Forest Resources


Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture


As human populations rise exponentially, agricultural production systems must be adapted to sustain ecosystem function. Government administered agricultural conservation programs may actualize greater gains in ecosystem services, including wildlife population gains, if conservation practices designed to target specific environmental outcomes are implemented strategically in agricultural landscapes. I evaluated multi-scale, multi-species, and multi-season avian population responses to a targeted native herbaceous buffer practice (CP33: Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds) under the continuous sign-up Conservation Reserve Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CP33 is the first conservation practice targeted directly to support habitat and population recovery objectives of a national wildlife conservation initiative (Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative). I coordinated breeding season, fall, and winter point transect surveys for northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), priority early-succession, and overwintering birds on ≈1,150 buffered and non-buffered fields in 14 states (10 ecoregions) from 2006-2009. I also assessed northern bobwhite-landscape associations within each ecoregion to determine effects of landscape structure on observed northern bobwhite abundances. Breeding season and autumn northern bobwhite densities were 60-74% and 52% greater, respectively, over all survey points in the near term (1-4 years post-establishment). However, breeding season and autumn response and associations between northern bobwhite abundance and landscape structure exhibited substantial regional variation, suggesting northern bobwhite conservation and management should be implemented on a regional basis. Breeding season densities of dickcissel (Spiza americana) and field sparrow (Spizella pusilla) were up to 190% greater on buffered fields, whereas overwintering densities of several Emberizid sparrow species were up to 2,707% greater on buffered fields. Species sensitive to patch area or those requiring vegetation structure different from that provided by buffers exhibited limited, but regionally and annually variable responses to buffered habitats. Increased bird densities of several species in several seasons suggest wildliferiendly farming practices delivered strategically and requiring minimal change in primary land use can benefit species across broad landscapes when conservation practices are targeted toward specific recovery objectives. Targeted conservation systems combining multiple conservation practices to provide an array of ecosystem services may be a mechanism for meeting multifarious conservation objectives and enhancing biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.



northern bobwhite||agricultural conservation||Colinus virginianus||targeted conservation||grassland birds||conservation buffers