31 March 2009

Invasive Species: The Burmese Python and the Nile Monitor making a home in the Southern US.

Since my time in Earlham's Ornithology class I have long harbored a deep affection for the Everglades, not to mention Florida's wild lands in general. The Everglades is a place I try to get to every two or three years. The biota, the climate and camping make it all unbeatable (except when my tire blew out in the middle of the night and all I could think of as I tried to change it were the Everglades Pumas that were surely staring at my neck).

Listening to NPR tonight I heard a bit of bad news for Everglades National Park, as well as the Florida Keys. The problem you ask? If you guessed invasive species give yourself two points. If you guessed something else, uh...don't give yourself two points. Of course this is a problem on going and everywhere, and anyone concerned with conservation biology has an encylipedia of organisms to cite. If I were to introduce you to some of them say Honey Suckle, Lonicera maackii, Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, Africanized Bee Apis mellifera scutellata Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta, I would only be getting you acquainted with the tiniest fraction of the trouble makers.

I now have two new species to add to the list I carry around in my head. The new entries for my list are the Burmese Python (Python molurus) and Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) Having worked in a pet store for some years I hope I didn't contribute to the problem. Sadly the trade in these animals is the root of the problem. Any pet store, like a zoo, has a fair number of escapes. Animals can escape from their owners as well as be set free. The outcomes are bad either way. A pregnant Burmese Python escaping from a home in Duluth MN in the middle of summer will maybe kill a few of its new neighbors but will not make it past October. That same python escaping in South Florida may cause considerably more problems. The pythons are now, according to the Nature Conservancy 10,000 strong in the Everglades alone. Now they are turning up in the Keys.

Both of these species present huge problems for the regions they in habit, and for the regions they could potentially inhabit. Both species are large bodied predators that can potentially wreak havoc on the biodiversity of both the Keys and the Everglades. Both places are characterized by high endemism. That is both places have many species or taxa whose distributions are limited to single region or locality. The native species in the Florida Keys and the Everglades (and potentially elsewhere) have no evolutionary experience with either the Burmese Python or the Nile Monitor and this may make them more susceptible to predation by the two. Both are excellent climbers (the Nile monitor is also deeply at home in the water, and is none to shabby running over land) and pose what I can't help but think are unique problems for many of the region's low and ground nesting birds.

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