Friday, November 01, 2013

Burmese Pythons: A Kinmen endemic species

When I was on Kinmen in August I didn't see any Burmese Pythons. How depressing.

Taiwan Today ran a piece on the discovery that the Burmese Python of Kinmen, long thought to be invasive, is actually an endemic species of Kinmen Island. The piece on the DNA work that showed that was recently published in Zoological Studies. You et al (2013) note:
The python once occurred on the islands in the early twentieth century, when the natural environment was less damaged (Hu 1976). However, those records were neglected by biologists until 2009, when Shiang et al. (2009) first included this python in their handbook based on a news report from 1950. Until that time, scientists had not formally recognized that this snake lived on these islands.

Rediscovery of pythons on the islands began in 2003, when reported by local newspapers (Kinmen Daily News, 16 June 2003). Since then, farmers and villagers have increasingly reported python sightings. Most of the snakes were captured because of their predation at chicken, duck, or lamb farms (You et al. 2011). By the winter of 2009, so many pythons had been captured that this species was becoming a nuisance to local farmers, who were experiencing financial losses due to predation of livestock by the snakes. Numerous complaints to the county and Taiwanese central governments were filed, and the authorities were encouraged to provide funding for scientific research on the pythons.

One of the most controversial issues is the origin of these pythons, because local residents cannot recall seeing such large snakes in the last half century. As a trade center between Taiwan and China, this region is notorious as a route for the illegal wildlife trade, including large numbers of yellow-margined box turtles (Cuora flavomarginata) and other herpetofauna for the pet trade (Chen and Lue 2010). Considering that pythons have rapidly invaded the state of Florida in the US, local people soon concluded that the presence of pythons was the result of introductions by pet traders. This hypothesis was strongly supported by field workers, including experienced birdwatchers, wildlife photographers, filmmakers, and ecologists (primarily mammalogists, ornithologists, and invertebrate zoologists from several different laboratories) who have spent decades investigating wildlife on the islands but had never seen or heard of a python (S.-M. Lin, personal interviews). 
The research article goes on to show that the DNA of the pythons on Kinmen is more closely related to species that live across the water in China than to pythons in the pet trade, which come from Vietnam. They are also adapted to Kinmen's cooler weather. This suggests that they recolonized Kinmen.

The snake benefited from the military's withdrawal, which enabled it to spread. You et al point out that another beneficiary of the withdrawal of the military is the otter.
Surveys of river otters Lutra lutra on Kinmen and Little Kinmen islands were carried out in 1992 and 1993. In order to record sightings of otters in the past, 12 Kinmen residents who had seen or caught otters before were interviewed. Interview results indicated that the otter is a resident, breeding species on Kinmen. Survey results indicated presence of otters throughout Kinmen and in many sites on Little Kinmen. However, habitat degradation, including pollution and drought, may pose serious threats to the continued existence of the species on both islands.
Kinmen has many areas which contains explosives, mines, and other dangers. These areas are avoided by residents. As a result, they have become thriving areas for wildlife, much as the North/South Korea border region has.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought all the snakes, weasels and rats were endemic to the KMT HQ?