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Project Work Plan

Department of the Interior USGS GE PES

Fiscal Year 2009 Study Work Plan

Project Title: Movements and Habitat Use of Burmese Pythons in the Southern 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 FY07-FY08
Principal Investigator(s): Frank J. Mazzotti, Kenneth G. Rice, Skip Snow, Gordon Rodda
Project Personnel: Michael Cherkiss, Matthew Brien, Jemeema Carrigan, Michael Rochford, Wellington Guzman, Brian Jeffrey, Christopher Bugbee, Jeff Beauchamp (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: Risk Assessment of Potential Invasiveness of Exotic Reptiles to South Florida Based on Import Pathway, South Florida Water Management District

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 sighting and spacing of traps must accommodate habitat use, size, and movement rates of the python. We propose to initiate 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): conduct strategic field studies of python life history. This is critical for restoration of Everglades’ prepython conditions. If successful, this activity will benefit not only Everglades NP, 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 evaluate the impacts of pythons on native biological diversity and development of 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 a preliminary assessment of the impacts of pythons on native species,
  3. Develop spatially explicit habitat suitability 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: As do other nonnative aquatic species, 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 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

Recent Products: N/A

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 FY09: The results of this study will be synthesized into a larger regional model. 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 information for risk assessment and management design
Task Funding: USGS Greater Everglades Priority Ecosystems Science (GE PES)
Task Leaders: Kristen Hart, Frank J. Mazzotti, and Skip Snow
Phone: 954-577-6304
FAX: 954-475-4125
Task Status (proposed or active): Active
Task priority: High
Time Frame for Task 1:
Task Personnel: Michael Cherkiss, Matthew Brien, Michael Rochford, Brian Jeffrey, Jeff Beauchamp, Theresea Barber Walters, Alex Wolf (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 habitat modification recommendations such as mowing berms to reduce suitability of habitat for pythons. All python data can 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. 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 data will 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.

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 preparation and publication may extend into or beyond FY09.
  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.