How does variation in land use impact the immediate behavioral and physiological responses of individuals and coveys to winter weather events?
Agriculture dominates much of the Great Plains landscape, and land use within this context can present both challenges for wild species, and conditions that may buffer against a dynamic climate. Beginning in the winter of 2015-2016, we began capturing quail, assessing covey physical condition, and releasing birds equipped with radio-collars. Radio-collared birds allow us to see where coveys are spending the night, and what habitat they are using in a diverse landscape. By looking at physical condition over the course of the winter, particularly during severe winter weather, we can examine how quail are using agricultural and natural landscapes, and the immediate consequences associated with that use. We are examining body condition, stress hormone levels, immune function, survival, and behavior.
How does variation in land use influence the indirect long-term effects of behavioral and physiological responses to severe winter weather and climatic conditions?
In addition to studying the more immediate effects of winter weather and microclimate, we are also interested in how conditions during the winter may carry-over and influence physiology and behavior during critical stages of the annual breeding cycle. We are tracking radio-collared quail to locate nests and determine whether winter weather and microclimate conditions or land use are altering reproductive decisions. We suspect that coveys with higher average stress hormone levels and poorer body condition, may begin nesting later or lay fewer eggs per nest than coveys in superior body condition or with lower baseline stress levels.