Invasive pythons, not anthropogenic stressors, explain the distribution of a keystone species

Biological Invasions
By: , and 



Untangling the causes of native species loss in human-modified systems is difficult and often controversial. Evaluating the impact of non-native species in these systems is particularly challenging, as additional human perturbations often precede or accompany introductions. One example is the ongoing debate over whether mammal declines within Everglades National Park (ENP) were caused by either the establishment of non-native Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) or the effects of other anthropogenic stressors. We examined the influence of both pythons and a host of alternative stressors—altered hydrology and habitat characteristics, mercury contamination and development—on the distribution of the marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris), a once common mammal in ENP. Distance from the epicenter of the python invasion best explained marsh rabbit occurrence in suitable habitat patches, whereas none of the alternative stressors considered could explain marsh rabbit distribution. Estimates of the probability of marsh rabbit occurrence ranged from 0 at the python invasion epicenter to nearly 1.0 150 km from the invasion epicenter. These results support the hypothesis that invasive pythons shape the distribution of marsh rabbits in southern Florida. The loss of marsh rabbits and similar species will likely alter trophic interactions and ecosystem function within the Everglades, an internationally important hotspot of biodiversity. Further, our results suggest that non-native species can have profound impacts on mainland biodiversity.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Invasive pythons, not anthropogenic stressors, explain the distribution of a keystone species
Series title Biological Invasions
DOI 10.1007/s10530-016-1221-3
Volume 18
Issue 11
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 10 p.
First page 3309
Last page 3318
Country United States
State Florida
Other Geospatial Greater Everglades Ecosystem
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