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Pythons are in their breeding season

UF/IFAS wildlife biologist Michelle Bassis holds a big female Burmese python captured near one in every of their tagged male pythons within the Everglades Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area. UF/IFAS / COURTESY PHOTO

A team of UF/IFAS and USGS scientists are on the seek for pythons, employing latest tactics and equipment in the following phase of a large-scale python telemetry scout project launched last 12 months. The goal of the project is to review Burmese python biology and movement patterns as they leverage state-of-the-art radio telemetry technology through the species’ mating and breeding season to locate and take away pythons inside a densely aquatic site within the eastern Everglades. A site where there’s an abundance of pythons and conditions that make it easy for them to camouflage into the tall sawgrass and slip away into the water inside seconds.

“We’ve got intensified efforts by tracking 14 pythons — up from eight — year-round to extend our understanding of how pythons are moving and using resources in a predominantly aquatic habitat throughout the Everglades,” said Melissa Miller, project lead and research assistant scientist specializing in invasion ecology on the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. “These data can improve our understanding of their use of space and help us recuperate at detecting and removing pythons.”

Working with project lead Melissa Miller is Brandon Welty, a UF/IFAS graduate student within the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation who has developed revolutionary techniques for capturing the associate snakes. A study site, encompassed with dense vegetation, is seasonally inundated with water with large expanses of habitat that contain water year-round. COURTESY UF/IFAS

Throughout the breeding season, when multiple male pythons aggregate around a reproductive female vying for a probability to mate, the team can capture and take away any pythons which can be interested in the team’s tagged pythons. These non-tagged pythons are known as “associate snakes.” “We’ve got made significant headway leveraging radio telemetry technology and are looking forward to removing more associate pythons this time around while further studying python movement and behavior on this difficult aquatic environment,” she said.

This 12 months, the team’s python goal location complicates and yet enhances the research into python behavior. Working with Miller is Brandon Welty, a UF/IFAS graduate student within the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation (WEC), who has developed revolutionary techniques for capturing the associate snakes. The study site, encompassed with dense vegetation, is seasonally inundated with water with large expanses of habitat that contain water year-round.

“We only get a transient opportunity to catch associate pythons after they are in these aquatic environments,” said Welty. “If the snake retreats into the water, it becomes almost inconceivable to locate. Due to this fact, we occasionally should exit the airboat to make sure a successful capture.”

The team continues to collaborate with a veterinarian to surgically implant radio transmitters into additional scout pythons, enabling tracking for a comprehensive study of their movement patterns, behavior, habitat utilization, and what are often called life history traits. Life history traits of interest may include data on vitals similar to survivorship, timing of reproductive events, clutch size, growth rate, and more. These characteristics are inheritable, interconnected, and might be influenced by natural selection.

The UF/IFAS and USGS Fort Collins Science Center researchers, together with Danny Haro, a UF/IFAS doctoral student, and Christina Romagosa, an associate professor and project collaborator at WEC in Gainesville, are using data collected during tracking events to tell statistical removal models. “We anticipate data collected during python tracking will increase the robustness of the removal model, ultimately allowing us to estimate key population parameters for pythons similar to detection and abundance,” said Amy Yackel Adams, a USGS research ecologist.

Haro’s research may allow scientists to estimate the variety of pythons at this study site, a much-needed endeavor as no tractable estimate of python abundance is thought and prevents assessment of removal efforts. Moreover, staff survey the vicinity during breeding season to discover associate snakes, facilitating the removal of non-tagged pythons from the wild. “We’re learning why there’s a knowledge gap concerning how pythons are using aquatic habitats because it isn’t easy to trace pythons in high water and dense vegetation,” said Miller. “Tracking often requires airboats and aerial flights to locate the snakes.”

While tracking pythons in additional aquatic environments is difficult, the team is collecting critical data that may improve scientists’ understanding of how pythons utilize various landscapes in South Florida. On tap for this season is incorporating a drone equipped with radiotelemetry tracking software to extend data collection while reducing resources needed to trace pythons. Scientists hope the breeding season will promote additional capture and removal of adult reproductive pythons, particularly large females, from distant interior locations of the Everglades. Adult female pythons can produce over 100 eggs in a clutch, making these females a goal for removal.

“Python telemetry scout programs have repeatedly shown to be an efficient method for detecting and removing pythons from interior landscapes,” Miller said. “This contrasts with nearly all of removal efforts, that are limited to capturing pythons along roadways and levees that might be easily accessed.”

This massive-scale python telemetry scout program is led by UF/IFAS scientists in close collaboration with Amy Yackel Adams, Mark Sandfoss, and Amanda Kissel, scientists with the USGS Fort Collins Science Center. “A profit to our collaborative study — along with increased overall science capability — is that we get to concurrently remove pythons through the breeding season while we track tagged pythons year-round to learn more about their ecology,” said Miller. “These efforts will increase our ability to detect and take away pythons and permit us to evaluate the efficacy of removal efforts.”

Funding for this long-term research project is provided by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Controlling invasive species, similar to the Burmese python, continues to be a high priority for the FWC,” said McKayla Spencer, a nonnative fish and wildlife program coordinator with FWC. “Supporting this scout snake project not only helps us remove additional pythons across the difficult-to-access, semi-aquatic Everglades landscape but in addition increases our knowledge of python behavior and life history — information that might be used to higher inform removal efforts in the longer term.”

About UF/IFAS The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human, and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the standard of human life. With greater than a dozen research facilities, 67 county extension offices, and award-winning students and school within the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries and all Florida residents. For details, visit ifas.ufl.edu. ¦ !function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s) {if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function(){n.callMethod? n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments)}; if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′; n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0; t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window, document,’script’, ‘https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/fbevents.js’); fbq(‘init’, ‘902781873245167’); fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);

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