Publications and Research
Claims of Potential Expansion throughout the U.S. by Invasive Python Species Are Contradicted by Ecological Niche Models
Background Recent reports from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) suggested that invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades may quickly spread into many parts of the U.S. due to putative climatic suitability. Additionally, projected trends of global warming were predicted to significantly increase suitable habitat and promote range expansion by these snakes. However, the ecological limitations of the Burmese python are not known and the possible effects of global warming on the potential expansion of the species are also unclear. Methodology/Principal Findings Here we show that a predicted continental expansion is unlikely based on the ecology of the organism and the climate of the U.S. Our ecological niche models, which include variables representing climatic extremes as well as averages, indicate that the only suitable habitat in the U.S. for Burmese pythons presently occurs in southern Florida and in extreme southern Texas. Models based on the current distribution of the snake predict suitable habitat in essentially the only region in which the snakes are found in the U.S. Future climate models based on global warming forecasts actually indicate a significant contraction in suitable habitat for Burmese pythons in the U.S. as well as in their native range. Conclusions/Significance The Burmese python is strongly limited to the small area of suitable environmental conditions in the United States it currently inhabits due to the ecological niche preferences of the snake. The ability of the Burmese python to expand further into the U.S. is severely limited by ecological constraints. Global warming is predicted to significantly reduce the area of suitable habitat worldwide, underscoring the potential negative effects of climate change for many species.
This work was originally published in PLoS ONE, available at doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002931.