The Evolutionary Game Theory of Burmese Pythons

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently awarded money to registrants of the 2013 Python Challenge for hunting and killing Burmese pythons in the Florida everglades, as outlined in the article “Plenty more where those came from — final take in Fla. snake hunt is 68 pythons.” Burmese pythons are an invasive species, meaning they are not native to the everglades and have significantly depleted the populations of already established species. The pythons were introduced by pet owners who set them free in the wild when they became to large to keep. The pythons have competed with native species such as foxes, rabbits, raccoons, bobcats, and other species.

The competition between pythons and other species led me to think of our discussion on large and small beetles and the game theory behind their invasions and interactions. Evolutionary Game Theory seemed to me to be the game theory of natural selection and, therefore, competition. In the case of the beetles, the Burmese pythons act in place of the large beetles and the other species act as the small beetles. When the pythons, which can reach upwards of eighteen feet and eat many types of small rodents and other animals, moved into the everglades, they were able to receive a far higher payoff than other species due to their competitive advantages in the ecosystem. Therefore, they were on the winning end of the battle between species; when just a few pet pythons were introduced they were able to decimate other populations.

The 2013 Python Challenge was started as a way to decrease the population of the pythons as well as to raise awareness of the problem of introducing new species to ecosystems that are finely balanced and may be drastically altered by new additions.

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2 thoughts on “The Evolutionary Game Theory of Burmese Pythons”

  1. This is a great post! I wonder what the payoff matrix would look like for such an invasion? I wonder though, if this scenario would require a more complicated payoff matrix than the simple beetle example from class. Because the python does hold an absolute advantage over every other species. For example, say foxes were more adept at killing pythons and stealing their food from them, but there weren’t enough foxes to outnumber the pythons. How would these complex payoff matrices work together in an environment? In a simple scenario the python seems to be an evolutionary stable species, however, in the real world, with more variables and many more species interacting together, is any species truly an evolutionarily stable one?

  2. Good question there Nick, and awesome article Dayna. I would be certain that the pay-off matrix would include some crazy metrics for taking into account all of the different animals. I wonder if the alligators might stand a chance!?

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