By Kim Smiley
Brown tree snakes are an invasive species that was inadvertently introduced to Guam where they have decimated native bird populations and done massive environmental damage. It’s estimated that there are about two million of these snakes on the island. The newest plan of attack in the battle to control the brown tree snake population is to poison the snakes by parachuting dead mice laced with pain killers onto Guam.
The problem of invasive brown tree snakes can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis. A Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions and adding the causes to intuitively show the cause-and-effect-relationships. The first step is to identify the goals that are impacted. In this example, the environmental goal is impacted because the balance of native species on Guam has been altered. This has happened because the native bird population has been decimated because they have been eaten by an invasive predator, the brown tree snake. The spider population has also exploded because many of the birds, their main predator, have disappeared. The snakes also cause significant and expensive power outages on Guam as they climb into electrical equipment.
Brown tree snakes have taken over Guam for several reasons. First, the snake was accidently introduced to the island, likely as a stowaway in military cargo after World War II. Once the snake was on the island, it thrived because the species had no major predator on the island, there was little competition for resources, and there was an abundant food source. There was little competition because Guam had only one other snake species prior to the introduction of the brown tree snake. The native snake species is blind and significantly smaller, preying mostly on insects. The brown tree snake had ample food because it is a pretty flexible predator happy to eat birds, lizards, bats and small mammals. In fact, the brown tree snake has found Guam so hospitable that the snakes grow larger on Guam than in their native habitat where predators are more plentiful and food is more limited.
Presence of these snakes on Guam has caused massive damage. Nine of twelve native bird species are extinct on the island. The snakes have also eaten a significantly amount of the small mammal population. There has also been a huge impact on vegetation on Guam since the snakes have wiped out many of the pollinators. Scientists have been trying to find ways to improve the situation.
The newest plan involves dropping dead mice laced with pain killers onto Guam. The pain killers are deadly to the snakes if ingested. The mice will be attached to something called a flagger, which is two pieces of cardboard attached with a streamer. The flagger should act like a parachute and catch in the tree canopy, which is where the snakes predominately spend their time. The hope is that the snakes will then eat the pain killer laced mice, thus reducing their population. The current plan is to drop about 2,000 mice over an enclosed area to determine if this is an effective method of brown tree snake population control. If it works, more dead mice could be headed Guam’s way in the future.
To view a Cause Map of the brown tree snake problem and a Process Map of the plan to drop dead mice, click on “Download PDF” above. To view a similar example about controlling feral cats on Macquarie Island, click here.