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Estimating detection probability for Burmese Pythons with few detections and zero recapture events

January 20, 2020

Detection has been a long-standing challenge to monitoring populations of cryptic herpetofauna, which often have detection probabilities that are closer to zero than one. Burmese Pythons (Python bivittatus =Python molurus bivittatus), a recent invader in the Greater Everglades Ecosystem of Florida, are cryptic snakes that have long periods of inactivity. In addition, management actions such as removal of every python encountered create challenges for estimating population size and quantifying effects of management using traditional statistical approaches. We used Bayesian analysis of data collected from 59 visual surveys (144 person-surveys) covering a total distance of 485.6 km (1185.1 person-km) and radiotelemetry to estimate detection probability for Burmese Pythons, estimates which can improve interpretation of encounter and removal data. We found that detection probability ranged from 0.0001 0.0146 depending on whether or not efforts units accounted for total human effort across multiple surveyors and statistical method used. Based on our surveys, detection probabilities for Burmese Pythons are therefore likely < 0.05, but factors such as the number of searchers or time of day may improve detection probability. Traditional capture-recapture or visual surveys are, however, unlikely to yield accurate information on Burmese Python population size or trends across time without cost-prohibitive effort. Consequently, novel method development to monitor or measure Burmese Python populations, including techniques better equipped to handle very low detection, is critically needed for informative and reliable inferences about population size or the management effects of python removal.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Estimating detection probability for Burmese Pythons with few detections and zero recapture events
DOI 10.1670/18-154
Authors Melia G. Nafus, Frank J. Mazzotti, Robert Reed
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Herpetology
Series Number
Index ID 70211225
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center