Invasive Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are novel nest predators in wading bird colonies of the Florida Everglades

Abstract

Invasive Burmese pythons have been shown to have population-level effects on native mammals in southern Florida. Tens of thousands of long-legged wading birds (of multiple species in Ciconiiformes, Pelecaniformes) breed in aggregations, known as colonies, on tree islands in the Everglades. Burmese pythons may pose a threat to these colonies because pythons are semi-aquatic and commonly use tree islands and arboreal habitat. However, python predation on nests of wading birds has not previously been documented or quantified. We used trail cameras to monitor nests at colonies in Everglades National Park and Water Conservation Area 3 in 2014, and 2016–2017. We did not detect Burmese python predation at monitored nests in 2014 (23 nests in 2 colonies) or 2016 (59 nests in 4 colonies). In 2017 (125 nests in 7 colonies), we detected three individual pythons consuming nestlings, fledglings, and eggs in a minimum of 7.9% (5 nests, n = 63) of monitored nests at a colony in Everglades National Park. In 2017, the overall predation rate of Burmese pythons at all monitored nests (5 of 125 nests, or 4%), was five times the native predator rate (1 of 125 nests, or 0.8%). Our study confirms that Burmese pythons are acting as predators in wading bird colonies at nontrivial rates and provides a baseline to which future studies can refer.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Lindsey Garner and Nick Vitale for much appreciated logistical guidance in the field. Our wading bird project technicians provided valuable field support: Martijn van der Sluijs, Alison Williams, Pamela Stampul, Andrew Bacher, Shannon Carvey, Derek LaFlamme, and Laney White. We thank our lab member, Wray Gabel, for sharing camera footage on the incidental detection in 2018. We are grateful to Jabi Zabala, Alice McBride, and Natalie Claunch for reviewing and improving earlier versions of this manuscript, and to Devon Colin MacRae for assistance analyzing images. The funding was provided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Grant Nos. W912HZ-15-2-0007, W912HZ-15-2-0017).

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Correspondence to Sophia C. M. Orzechowski.

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This research was conducted in accordance with the University of Florida Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC #201708305 and #201408305).

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Electronic supplementary material

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Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 13574 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 12715 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 37859 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 22350 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 17688 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 17127 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 12304 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 18550 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 11012 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 37072 kb)

Supplemental word document providing information on how individual pythons were differentiated, camera pole materials and design, camera programming, and nest fates each year (DOCX 8589 kb)

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Orzechowski, S.C.M., Romagosa, C.M. & Frederick, P.C. Invasive Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are novel nest predators in wading bird colonies of the Florida Everglades. Biol Invasions 21, 2333–2344 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-019-01979-x

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Keywords

  • Predation
  • Invasive
  • Wading bird
  • Colony
  • Reproductive success
  • Python