Modeling relative habitat suitability and movement behavior of invasive Burmese pythons in southern Florida
Invasive Burmese pythons are established in the Everglades and are altering the ecology of southern Florida. Their distribution in Florida is expanding northward into more urbanized and fragmented habitats. An understanding of the suitability of habitat throughout southern Florida for Burmese pythons and their interaction with Florida’s landscapes through movement behavior is vital for predicting the python’s ability to persist in habitats outside of the Everglades. In this thesis, we use ecological modeling to predict habitat suitability and to investigate personality-dependent dispersal. First, we used presence-only ecological niche modeling with correction for sampling bias to identify the key landscape variables in predicting habitat suitability for pythons at the present stage of the invasion. We found estuarine habitat and freshwater wetlands to be the important variables to contribute to python habitat suitability when considered at the scale of a Burmese python’s home range. Then we used an individual based model to explore risk-taking behavior on a shy-bold continuum of animal personality of dispersing juvenile Burmese pythons on the leading edge of the population’s expansion from the Everglades into Homestead and south Miami, Florida. We observed that a behaviorally plastic strategy best resembled empirically derived patterns of the python’s expansion into increasingly urbanized landscapes.
Zollner, Purdue University.
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