Parasite spillover: indirect effects of invasive Burmese pythons (ABSTRACT)

Identification of the origin of parasites of nonindigenous species (NIS) can be complex. NIS may introduce parasites from their native range and acquire parasites from within their invaded range. Determination of whether parasites are non‐native or native can be complicated when parasite genera occur within both the NIS’ native range and its introduced range. We explored the potential for spillover and spillback of lung parasites infecting Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) in their invasive range (Florida). We collected 498 indigenous snakes of 26 species and 805 Burmese pythons during 2004–2016 and examined them for lung parasites. We used morphology to identify three genera of pentastome parasites, Raillietiella, a cosmopolitan form, and Porocephalus and Kiricephalus, both New World forms. We sequenced these parasites at one mitochondrial and one nuclear locus and showed that each genus is represented by a single species, R. orientalis, P. crotali, and K. coarctatus. Pythons are host to R. orientalis and P. crotali, but not K. coarctatus; native snakes are host to all three species. Sequence data show that pythons introduced R. orientalis to North America, where this parasite now infects native snakes. Additionally, our data suggest that pythons are competent hosts to P. crotali, a widespread parasite native to North and South America that was previously hypothesized to infect only viperid snakes. Our results indicate invasive Burmese pythons have affected parasite‐host dynamics of native snakes in ways that are consistent with parasite spillover and demonstrate the potential for indirect effects during invasions. Additionally, we show that pythons have acquired a parasite native to their introduced range, which is the initial condition necessary for parasite spillback.


Miller MA, Kinsella JM, Snow RW, Hayes MM, Falk BG, Reed RN, Mazzotti FJ, Guyer C, Romagosa CM. 2018. Parasite spillover: indirect effects of invasive Burmese pythons. Ecology and Evolution. 2018 Jan 1.