New Study Provides Insights for Detecting the Invasive Brown Treesnake

By The U.S. Geological Survey

Photo Credit: Pavel Kirillov

(Carlisle, Pa.) – Researchers from Dickinson College and the U.S. Geological Survey collaborated on field research to understand the ability of human searchers to detect the invasive brown treesnake (BTS) on the island of Guam. Due to their nocturnal and tree-dwelling habits, these snakes are extremely difficult to detect, especially when they are present at low densities in an area. A new study published in the journal Ecosphere helps explain why and provides valuable information on optimizing search methods and search locations that could be valuable if the BTS was accidentally introduced to a snake-free island.

In a study partially funded by the U.S. Navy, a team of researchers led by Scott Boback, associate professor of biology at Dickinson College, determined the precise location of snakes using radio telemetry in a 55-hectare forest on Guam, while a team of USGS scientists led by Robert Reed performed visual surveys at the same site. Boback and Reed say the synchronized combination of those techniques revealed where and how visual surveyors failed to detect some snakes. Because this study was performed on a low-density population after intensive snake control efforts, results provide rapid response teams with tools to improve detection during early invasions on nearby islands.

“By having a team perform independent visual surveys at the same time that another team was locating radio-tagged snakes, we were able to conclude that low detection rates are primarily due to snake behavior rather than searcher ability,” Reed said. “Our findings about when and where snakes are detectable can then be used to target them more precisely during survey efforts.”

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