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projects > burmese pythons in the greater everglades: movement, habitat use, impacts, and control tools > work plan

Project Work Plan

Department of Interior USGS GE PES
Fiscal Year 2012 Study Work Plan

Project Title: Movements and Habitat Use of Burmese Pythons in the Greater Everglades
Study Start Date: October 1, 2006
Study End Date: September 30, 2010
Web Sites:
Location (Subregions, Counties, Park or Refuge): Total System
Funding Source: USGS Greater Everglades Priority Ecosystems Science (GE PES)
Other Complementary Funding Source(s): Movements and Habitat Use of Burmese Pythons in the Southern Everglades NPS CESI
Funding History: GE PES FY07FY09
Principal Investigator(s): Kristen M. Hart, Frank J. Mazzotti, Skip Snow
Project Personnel: Michael Cherkiss, Michael Rochford (UF-FLREC).
Supporting Organizations: National Park ServiceEverglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District
Associated/Linked Projects: Assessing the Impacts of Burmese Pythons in the Greater Everglades: Examination of Diet and Thermal Biology

Overview & Objective(s): The recent colonization of Everglades National Park and adjacent areas by Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) has created significant new challenges for restoration of this world-renowned ecosystem. Not only are the hydrologic techniques traditionally applied to restoration of the Everglades insufficient for controlling this new threat, but snake management is an underdeveloped specialty that has been elaborated only for two comparatively-small terrestrial/arboreal snakes, the brown tree snake on Guam and the Habu in the Ryukyu Islands. Like the python, these snakes have the potential to threaten human health and seriously disrupt natural ecological processes. In the case of Guam, the snake's introduction resulted in a catastrophic loss of biodiversity. The control techniques developed for those island snakes (traps, searches, dog-aided searches, habitat modifications, prey-base control, and toxicants) may be applied to Burmese pythons in the Everglades. However, modifications to accommodate the unique wetland character of the Everglades and the suite of nontarget species present in south Florida's reptile-rich continental environment will be necessary. Other modifications are needed to optimize control effectiveness by matching control tool application to behavior, morphology, and ecology of Python molurus. For example, effective placement and spacing of traps must accommodate habitat use, size, and movement rates of the python. In this project, we will continue the highest priority task outlined in a 2005 workshop of invasive snake management experts (July 2005–Invasive Snake/Reptiles Management and Response Workshop, West Palm Beach, Florida): conducting strategic field studies of python life history. In particular, we will continue collecting location data for radio-tracked pythons with a focus on microhabitat selection in the breeding season (i.e., spring 2010). This information is critical for understanding the potential impacts of pythons on the greater Everglades ecosystem. This activity will benefit the greater Everglades (i.e., Everglades National Park, but also vulnerable conservation areas throughout southern Florida (e.g., Big Cypress National Preserve, water conservation areas (WCAs), the remainder of the Florida peninsula, and coastal southeastern U.S.).

The purpose of this project is to provide science support to determine the overlap of python movements and home ranges on native biological diversity and develop control measures for Burmese pythons. The specific objectives of this project are to:

  1. Synthesize results on natural history of pythons in an adaptive framework to evaluate relationships between ecosystem restoration and habitat modification on control of pythons.
  2. Synthesize results on natural history of pythons to provide an assessment of the impacts of pythons on native species, as determined through radiotelemetry.
  3. Develop spatially-explicit habitat suitability indices (using 3 years of radiotelemetry data for individual snakes) to evaluate Everglades restoration alternatives on the spread and establishment of pythons.

Specific Relevance to Major Unanswered Questions and Information Needs Identified: The proposed project responds to needs stated in the BAA and DOI Science Plan for research to develop effective control methods for exotic aquatic vertebrates, for research into the life history of non-native species, and to determine impacts of exotic species on native species on federally managed lands. Specific projects that could affect the ultimate distribution and abundance of pythons in southern Florida include the Combined Structural and Operational Plan (CSOP) for modified water deliveries to Everglades National Park and Decompartmentalization of Water Conservation Area 3 (Decomp).

Potential Impacts: Burmese pythons present a potential threat to successful ecological restoration of the greater Everglades (NRC, 2005). Pythons are now established and breeding in south Florida. Python molurus bivittatus has the potential to occupy the entire footprint of the CERP, adversely impacting valued resources across the landscape. The results of this project will be applied to develop a comprehensive, science-based control and containment program. The proposed project takes advantage of best available information to perform the highest priority research on python control and risk assessment. Within the project there will be an adaptive component that will synthesize and integrate project results as they occur and make them available to control programs. Results of this project can also be applied to risk analyses of invasion by pythons and relationship of pythons to habitat management. A spatially explicit habitat suitability model will be developed using the python radiotelemetry database to evaluate impacts of Decomp and CSOP on suitability of existing habitat for pythons and the potential for spread and establishment in new areas.

Status: Newly funded and initiated in FY07, continuing through FY10

Recent Products:

Planned Products:

  1. Progress (semiannual) and final (annual) reports.
  2. Datasets provided to funding agency at completion of study.
  3. Journal articles to be submitted for peer review in scientific journals.

Planned direction in FY10: The focus of fieldwork in the spring of 2010 will include further evaluation of "Judas" snakes as control tools, which will allow for further characterization of microhabitat selection of Burmese pythons. The results of all Burmese python radio-tracking efforts thus far will be submitted as two peer-reviewed articles (one summary of translocated pythons, one summary of all radio-tracked snakes). As well, this study will be synthesized into a larger regional model of habitat suitability. Information and methods can also be used in adjacent areas such as Big Cypress National Preserve, South Florida Water Management District lands, and Seminole areas.

Title of Task: Synthesis of Burmese python radio-tracking data for risk assessment and management design.
Task Funding: USGS Greater Everglades Priority Ecosystems Science (GE PES)
Task Leaders: Kristen M. Hart, Frank J. Mazzotti, and Skip Snow
Phone: 954-577-6335
FAX: 954-475-4125
Task Status (proposed or active): Active
Task priority: High
Task Personnel: Michael Cherkiss, Michael Rochford (UF-FLREC).

Task Summary and Objectives: We have taken advantage of the best available scientific information and technical experience from experts to design a science support program for eradication of pythons. It is essential to continuously synthesize incoming information from experiments and monitoring and apply it to modify control and containment actions. For example, diet data from trapped pythons can be used to modify trapping procedures; radiotelemetry data on spatial and temporal habitat use patterns will feedback into determining where and when to trap pythons. Furthermore, natural history data such as diet analysis will be used to evaluate impacts of pythons on native species and habitat, and movement data will also be applied to developing an understanding of habitat suitability. Such information allows us to prescribe management recommendations such as mowing berms to reduce suitability of habitat for pythons. All python data can be used to create a spatially-explicit, regional habitat-suitability model that can be used to evaluate impacts of ecosystem restoration alternatives on establishment and spread of pythons. Continuously synthesizing and integrating data into the containment and control program will provide an adaptive management approach to eradication of pythons.

Work to be undertaken during the proposal year and a description of the methods and procedures: Python radio-tracking data will be summarized using standard home-range metrics (i.e., minimum convex polygon (MCP) and kernel density estimation (KDE) procedures). Spatial data will further be used to create a spatially-explicit habitat-suitability model that can be used to evaluate impacts of ecosystem restoration alternatives on establishment and spread of pythons. We are also evaluating the potential for satellite and GPS tags to work in Burmese pythons, which may provide us with daily location data.

Specific Task Product(s):

  1. Semiannual and annual reports to be completed.
  2. Journal articles to be submitted for peer review in scientific journals will be completed as the various components of this task are completed. Manuscript publication may extend into or beyond FY10.
  3. Updates and reports on important findings will be conveyed as they become available. This will facilitate the identification and development of research, policy, regulatory, and management strategies relevant to pythons.

Literature Cited:
Committee on Restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, National Research Council, 2005. Re-Engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 140p.