In 2015, SoilKeepers began exploration to add wildlife maintenance and restoration, starting with quail restoration. Now called the Rapidan Wildlife Habitat Cooperative, this pilot project will provide tools to homeowners and landowners that would like to use all or a portion of their property for quail habitat, and connect their management with others, to increase quail and other bird species, such as turkey, meadowlark, etc. population and health.
The following information from Clemson University describes the puzzle like nature of stiching together patches of habitat for this jewel of Virginia’s Natural Heritage.
Knowing what animals need and trying to meet those needs is only half the battle for landowners who are interested in promoting wildlife on their property. Simply having considerable amounts of food, cover, or water does not ensure abundant wildlife.
Within any area, large quantities of potential food, water, or cover may be unused because they are too far apart in relation to the customary travels of the animals in an area. An animal could travel a long distance to find water if necessary, but it would do little good if the animal was eaten by a predator along the way. Properly arranging the habitat’s components is important to ensure that each component benefits wildlife. Accomplishing this goal requires an understanding of edge, interspersion, vertical layering, headquarters, and travel corridors.
Wildlife requirements for food, cover, and water vary according to:
In addition, most resident wildlife (wildlife that do not migrate or travel large distances) rarely travel more than 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the place where they were born.
Because of these differences, the chances of meeting all the habitat requirements of various wildlife species are improved if you mix up or arrange each habitat component (food, cover, water) in a 160 – to 320-acre block. This mixing or arranging is called interspersion or horizontal arrangement. Stated another way, interspersion is the intermixing of different habitat types (forests, pastures, cropland, etc.) or plant communities on a given tract of land.
Think of it as a puzzle. All the pieces of the puzzle must be present and in the proper order for the puzzle to be complete. The greater the mixing of habitat types of an area, the greater the interspersion. This is important because many species of wildlife have a tendency to be more abundant in areas with high interspersion.
Within a forest community, how the plants grow in different layers is also an important type of arrangement called vertical layering. This is important because some wildlife species may use the ground layer vegetation (herbaceous) for food, but also need the tallest layer (tree canopy) for shelter.
The middle layer between the tree canopy and herbaceous layer is comprised of shrubs (shrub layer). Every mature forest community has different vertical layering. Some may have a variety of layers comprised of grasses, broadleaf weeds (forbs), shrubs, small trees, and large trees; whereas, others may only have one distinct layer of tall trees. The latter would provide fewer habitats for wildlife compared to the forest stand with a variety of layers. The boundary where 2 or more different plant communities or successional stages (such as where a forest meets a pasture or cropland) meet is called edge. Sometimes there is an abrupt change between plant communities. Other times there is no sharp or distinct difference, but only a gradual change from one plant community to another. Edge is a mixture of both plant communities or successional stages in places where the gradual transition occurs. Gradual edges with strong vertical layering share characteristics of both plant communities; therefore, wildlife species can find a greater selection of food and cover necessary to meet their requirements in these areas.
Headquarters (often called covert or prime habitat cover) are points where more than three vegetation or habitat types meet. Headquarters are very attractive to wildlife because they provide a greater variety of habitat components in a small area. Management plans should encourage a large number of headquarters since these areas provide many of the needs of wildlife.
Large amounts of edge and highly interspersed landscapes are not beneficial for all wildlife species. Some wildlife species need unbroken areas in a certain successional stage to provide some or all of their habitat requirements. For example, some songbird species (interior forest species) need unbroken tracts of mature forest to meet their habitat requirements.
Landowners who control large sections of land should consider trying to create a balance of edge with blocks of unbroken forest if they are trying to attract a diversity of wildlife species.
There is a simple way to measure the amount of edge and interspersion on a tract of land. Obtain an aerial photograph of the property from the USDA Farm Services Agency (used later to serve as a planning document). Draw two imaginary lines connecting each corner of the property boundary. Count the number of times the habitat changes along each line. Next add these two numbers together to get an interspersion index value. The higher the value, the better it is for quail, rabbits, and other wildlife species that like areas with high interspersion.
You can also circle each point where three vegetation types occur to obtain information on how many headquarter areas are on the property.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute, and the State of Missouri all are leaders in quail restoration. We hope to hopes to find ways to Partners with these entities as we pilot our first projects in 2015. A fantastic article that was written last year about VDGIF’s “Quail Quilt” program (a project similar in concept but differently implemented) provides helpful background on restoration of quail habitat in Virginia.