Invasive Species & Guest Seminar
Invasive Species and an audience will Prof. Bill Mitsch was the itinerary for day seven. First we trvelled to the Daniel Beard Center in the Everglades National Park and met with Brian Falk from the USGS who is carrying out research into the introduced snakes in Florida. Namely the Burmese Pythons (Python bivittatus) , weighing in at up to 200lbs (90kg) and 18ft (5.4m) these are some serious snakes!
As a self confessed “not a massive fan” of snakes this was an interesting day and Brian was full of interesting facts about his work here in the Everglades National Park. The problem arises from the Pythons generalist diet that preys on Floridian endemics and anything else unlucky enough to cross its path. This combined with the ecology of a sit and wait predator and very few access points to the Everglades NP leads to saturation of their catch per unit effort (CPU) with it also varying between seasons. Brian can spend 40hrs searching in November per Python caught, or 3hrs in August as the hatchlings emerge. However the trend from this seems to suggest that they are merely taking a harvestable surplus from the population rather than affecting a control.
In fact the biggest predator of Pythons are car tyres and one of the easiest ways to see pythons is at night on the asphalt. The fact these beasts can quite often survive being run over by an american truck (which are enormous compared to the UK) is even more amazing, and slightly scary!
But even this slight ophidiophobe (that’s a fear of snakes) held the (pet) Burmese Pythonand I am pleased to say it was actually an enlightening experience and I have a great deal more respect and wonder, although when Brian brought out the wild caught specimen I was nowhere to be seen when they asked for volunteers to hold it by the tail!
Seeing the top half of the wild Python just melt into the grass really brought home the amazing camouflage and sit and wait style of predation.
Next with the temperature at 88°F (31°C) we met with Jeff Klein who is a Fish Biologist and Aquatic Ecologist who guided us around the Anhinga Trail. We heard how the main limit on the invasive fish species in the everglades; often released from aquaculture and aquariums as well as the food industry, is their lower lethal temperatures. ranging from 15 – 4°C depending on the species of fish.
Our position on the Anhinga Trail was in the path of the Taylor Slough (pronounced slew), one of the main paths of drainage for the river of grass that is the Everglades. As we walked the trail Jeff explained that the invasion paths of various fish species could be seen mapped onto the canal network which moves water around the Florida peninsula. Also we learnt about the seasonality as in the dry season fish concentrate into the deepest area and the high densities provide bountiful food for predators such as the Double Crested Cormorants and Anhinga.
Back in the minivans the group travelled to Homestead, FL. where we were guests of Prof Bill Mitsch in the Krome Center. The subject of his talk was ” using wetlands to prevent phosphorous and nitrogen pollution in downstream wetlands lakes rivers and coastal waters.
This was a presentation with great ideas and I will be keeping a close eye on any developments in Prof. Mitsch’s projects as to be involved in anything the scale of “Saving MOM” or the Laurentian Great Lakes really would be incredible! Using wetlands to protect wetlands isn’t new and people have known about the ability of wetlands to treat water for many years now but Prof. Mitsch’s dreams tackle problems many orders of magnitude larger than anything I have heard about being planned before.
But one salient point that I think any conservationist or restoration body should keep in mind is that
Successful (wetland) restoration needs Mother Nature and Father Time