Applications of Advanced Tracking and Modeling Tools with Burmese Pythons across South Florida's Landscape

Science Center Objects

Researchers will determine movement rates and habitat-use patterns of pythons across the South Florida landscape by conducting a telemetry study tracking pythons simultaneously in several locations

The Science Issue and Relevance:  In 2012, multiple adult Burmese pythons including several gravid females were found in the mangrove habitat of Southwest Florida’s Rookery Bay. These snakes offered an opportunity to study pythons in a new habitat outside of Everglades National Park. Pythons are also being observed closer to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, in the northern part of the Greater Everglades. Understanding how pythons move and use habitat throughout the Everglades is critical for effective management and control of these invasive species.

The introduction of GPS tracking to wildlife studies in the 1990s revolutionized the way we think about animal movement and resource use. Technology has continued to progress and GPS tags are now miniaturized enough to surgically implant into Burmese pythons, offering us the opportunity to similarly transform our understanding of this invasive species. Currently, GPS tags can provide us 15 times more locations a week than VHF (radio) technology.

Invasive Burmese Python

Invasive Burmese python in the Greater Everglades Photograph credit: Brian Smith, USGS

 

Methodology for Addressing the Issue:  We will determine movement rates and habitat-use patterns of pythons across the South Florida landscape by conducting a telemetry study tracking pythons simultaneously in several locations, which could include the Everglades, Big Cypress, lands belonging to the Miccosukee Tribe, Rookery Bay, and Loxahatchee NWR. Pythons will be captured and implanted with GPS tags. Data analysis will reveal patterns in home range size and location, patterns of movement across the seasons and throughout the ecosystem, and patterns of habitat selection and avoidance. Fine-scale habitat-use data will also nicely complement ongoing efforts to develop a habitat suitability model for pythons in the Everglades. A modeling component will use a combination of individual-based modeling and field research to estimate the effects of movement behavior and navigational abilities on the rate of spread and invasion routes.   We will 1) assess how python movements differ during two biologically-relevant seasons: the python breeding season (our dry season, December – April) and the python non-breeding season (our wet season, May – November); 2) determine habitat use by pythons across the landscape throughout the year; and 3) test for habitat selection and avoidance by individual pythons and compare these patterns of selection in our different study sites and in the different seasons.

 

Future Steps: We will continue the use of telemetry to track pythons and will work with collaborators to expand our python tracking in Southwest Florida and the northern periphery of the python invasion. GPS technology will continue to play an increasing role, allowing us to refine our understanding of python spatial distributions. Gut, isotopic, and genetic samples will continue to be inventoried and analyzed with respect to environmental parameters. We will continue developing the cutting-edge environmental DNA (eDNA) tool for practical field use to inform land managers. These efforts will provide a better understanding of the biology and ecological impact of invasive pythons and provide insight into ways to take advantage of their biology to control their population.

 

Related Project(s) or Products:

Use of stable isotopes to examine whether Burmese pythons are prey-switching in the core area of their range in the Everglades (Collaboration with USGS PI Amanda Demopoulos, funded from USGS Ecosystems Program);

How do Burmese pythons alter mammalian communities and their ecological functions throughout the Greater Everglades ecosystem? (Collaborations with University of Florida PI Robert McCleery and USGS PI Stephanie Romanach, funded from USGS Ecosystems Program);

Burmese python population genetics (Collaboration with USGS PI Margaret Hunter, funded from USGS Ecosystems Program);

Environmental DNA (eDNA) detection of the five giant constrictor snakes in Florida (Collaboration with USGS PI’s Margaret Hunter, Robert Reed, Sara Oyler-McCance, funded from USGS PES, Ecosystems, and Invasives Programs).