Jan. 17, 2013 -- The invasion of Burmese pythons in Florida's wetlands poses an existential challenge to the state's native wildlife as these apex predators have been known to prey on everything from small animals like raccoons and opossums to larger ones like white-tail deer and even alligators.
How has the state faced the challenge of dealing with 150,000 non-native snake threatening its biodiversity? The answer is a good old-fashioned hunting contest, of course. Florida's "Python Challenge" has drawn some 800 snake hunters, according to a report by the Associated Press. Most of the snake hunters are amateurs, so they're given some instruction: "Drink water, wear sunscreen, don’t get bitten by anything and don’t shoot anyone."
Good advice. But can the state of Florida really shoot itself out of this mess?
Invasive species might be bad for the environment, but many of them are good enough to eat.
Tiger prawns in the Gulf, Asian carp in the Great Lakes and many other species have been put on the menu in their respective locales in an attempt to thin their numbers.
In fact, there are even books devoted to taking advantage of the potential of using invasive species as a potential food source.
Sometimes, nature will take care of a problem all on its own.
A study published in 2010 in the Journal of Arid Environments sought to document invasive bullfrog populations in the mountains of Mexico's Baja California. To their surprise, the invaders were actually put under severe pressure due to flash floods that occurred periodically in the region that they simply weren't adapted to cope with.
The bullfrogs happen to breed during the hurricane season, making them vulnerable to population swings. Native frogs, on the other hand, fared just fine circumstances they were adapted for.
Just as the environment can help push out an invasive species, so too can a well adapted native on rare occasions.
A University of Georgia study conducted in 2012 found that some native clearweed plants in the Peach State have evolved resistance to garlic mustard, an invasive plant first introduced 150 years ago to the United States from Europe.
The garlic mustard, a noxious plant that spreads rapidly, is evolving a counter-resistance, setting off a kind of chemical warfare among the native and invasive species.
In some cases, the best policy for dealing with invasive species is just to leave them alone, particularly if they occupy a crucial ecological niche that they or other invasive plants and animals forced another species to vacate.
A study by Princeton researchers in 2011 found that invasive ship rats brought to New Zealand's North Island when Europeans first arrived devastated local populations of birds and bats. As pollinators, the native species were an important part of the ecosystem, but the ship rats have filled that role. As one of the researchers explained in a press release, "the killer stepped in to do the job of its victim."
Furthermore, efforts to eradicate the invader could come at a cost to native species.
One common tactic for reducing populations of invasive species is simply to make their importing them from their native habitat illegal.
State fish and wildlife departments monitor the potential introduction of invasive plants and animals from outside their jurisdictions. Alligatorweed, for example, is an invasive aquatic plant that originated in South America and can not only endanger native species, but also put humans at risk by reducing water quality.
Unfortunately, that tactic doesn't seem to have its limitations. Florida, after all, eventually made it illegal to import Burmese pythons, but that hasn't stopped in the increasing numbers of these snakes in the Sunshine State.