Major Study Will Look At Effects of Disease in Rapidly Declining Texas Bobwhite Quail Populations

Last fall, prior to the opener of the Texas quail season, I got the opportunity to spend some time knocking around and running my dog on the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch near Roby, Texas. You can read about my trip here The RPQRR is one of the preeminent quail research facilities in the nation and 4,700 acres of the quail-iest looking ground you'll find anywhere on earth. Now researchers at the RPQRR have announced a major study to look at the potential effects of disease in our rapidly declining bobwhite quail populations.

From a press release on the RPQRR website:
_Bird dogs howl mournfully in their kennels. Quail hunters are frustrated. Researchers are stumped. Abundance of the bobwhite quail, an iconic game bird of the southern U.S, is at a record low, and nobody is sure just why."Bobwhite abundance has declined for a while, more drastically in some areas than others" said Dr. Dale Rollins, San Angelo-based research scientist with Texas Agrilife Research, and the director for the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch located just west of here. "But in recent years, we question whether rainfall is the driving factor, at least in the Rolling Plains. Recent observations seem to defy the prevailing habitat-precipitation paradigm."

For years coffee-shop talk has blamed quail "busts" on disease, and now a group of quail researchers are turning their attention to the possible roles of diseases and parasites in the decline of bobwhite quail. "Disease, as a hypothesis for quail decline, has been ignored by the research community" observes Rick Snipes of Aspermont. Snipes, an avid and outspoken quail hunter, serves as President for the RPQRR. He says sportsmen and landowners across Texas and Oklahoma are united in their concern for the popular game birds.

"I've always been intrigued about the possible role of disease in quail dynamics" said Dr. Rollins. "For example, I cannot explain the sudden, widespread demise of the scaled ['blue'] quail across its range in 1988 without the involvement of disease." Scaled quail populations have also declined since 2006, and as with bobwhites, Rollins says the drop cannot be adequately explained by weather or habitat alone. "What we've observed with quail declines across west Texas since 2006 hints of something going on--it doesn't appear to be habitat-related, and our weather during 2010 was favorable for a rebound . . . but it didn't happen" Rollins continued. Rollins said the decline of quail east of Interstate 35 can be explained largely as a result of habitat change, but he argues that habitat changes are not as apparent across the Rolling Plains. "We're talking about larger ranches out here, and the country looks pretty much like it did twenty years ago when quail were abundant" Rollins offered._

Everyone knows how bad our eastern bobs are doing, but this year hunters in the wild quail strongholds of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are experiencing one of their poorest seasons in memory, and it can't be explained away solely by habitat or weather. Thoughts? Reaction?