Genetic Analysis of the Invasive Burmese Python to Aid Management and Population-Control Decision-Making

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Invasive Burmese pythons threaten the success of Everglades restoration efforts. To assist with management and population control decision making, USGS scientists are implementing genetic studies to identify potential new entry pathways and to help quantify the size of the breeding population.

Captured Burmese python

Captured Burmese python

The Science Issue and Relevance: Burmese pythons threaten successful ecological restoration in the greater Everglades, as they are established and breeding in South Florida. Pythons have the potential to occupy the entire footprint of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP), adversely impacting valued resources across the landscape. Management and control actions must include research strategies to evaluate impacts from pythons. Population genetic analysis will include samples from inside and outside of Everglades National Park (ENP) to identify new pathways of entry, as well as quantify breeding population size. The results of this project will be applied to further develop the decision-support tools for the NPS comprehensive science-based control and containment program. We will conduct python genetic analysis to update information on genetic diversity and size of the breeding population, setting up a permanent pathway for future sample analysis and data interpretation. Proposed work complements other studies and DOI science needs towards control methods for and impacts of exotic aquatic vertebrates on federally-managed lands.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: Next generation sequencing was used to generate 117,516 genomic DNA sequences of Burmese pythons. Microsatellites were identified and optimized to generate individual fingerprints for population studies and individual identification. For rapid evaluation of additional samples, the 24 microsatellites were combined in eight multiplex reactions. Results of genetic analysis will identify new genotypes in samples collected from both core and peripheral areas of the Everglades, the size of the effective breeding population, and establish a permanent mechanism for evaluation of “new” python samples in a timely fashion. Together, data derived from both previously and newly developed microsatellites will be used to increase the power of the dataset to detect whether there is variation within the panmictic Everglades python population.

DNA sequence of Burmese python

DNA sequence of Burmese python

Future Steps: Using the 24 loci, genotypes will be generated for ~400 wild caught pythons in ENP. Population level studies will be used to reconstruct pathways of introductions, determine whether breeding groups exist, and assign individuals to source populations to assist with eradication measures.

Related Project(s): Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, Greater Everglades Priority Ecosystem Science Initiative, Ecology of and Control Strategies for Invasive Burmese Pythons (Python molurus bivitattus) in the Greater Everglades (K. Hart)