Challenges to a molecular approach to prey identification in the Burmese python, Python molurus bivattatus

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Abstract

Molecular approaches to prey identification are increasingly useful in elucidating predator-prey relationships, and we aimed to investigate the feasibility of these methods to document the species identities of prey consumed by invasive Burmese pythons in Florida. We were particularly interested in the diet of young snakes, because visual identification of prey from this size class has proven difficult. We successfully extracted DNA from the gastrointestinal contents of 43 young pythons, as well as from several control samples, and attempted amplification of DNA mini-barcodes, a 130-bp region of COX1. Using a PNA clamp to exclude python DNA, we found that prey DNA was not present in sufficient quality for amplification of this locus in 86% of our samples. All samples fromthe GI tracts of young pythons contained only hair, and the six samples we were able to identify to species were hispid cotton rats. This suggests that young Burmese pythons prey predominantly on small mammals and that prey diversity among snakes of this size class is low.We discuss prolonged gastrointestinal transit times and extreme gastric breakdown as possible causes of DNA degradation that limit the success of a molecular approach to prey identification in Burmese pythons.

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Falk, B. G., & Reed, R. N. (2015). Challenges to a molecular approach to prey identification in the Burmese python, Python molurus bivattatus. PeerJ, 2015(11). https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1445

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