Speaker: Frank Mazzotti, Professor UFL, Director at Center for Natural Resources
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The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), perhaps the most recognized symbol of the Everglades, affects nearly all aquatic life in the ecosystem in some way. It is a top predator and an ecosystem engineer that builds holes, trails and nests which provide habitat for diverse plants and animals. While alligators are abundant throughout Florida in a variety of freshwater habitats, Everglades populations tend to be lower density and in poorer condition than those in the north.
The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is a coastal species that occurs in parts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and south Florida. The crocodile was declared endangered in 1975, and although the population has significantly recovered and was reclassified as threatened in 2007, it continues to face issues related to habitat loss from development and effects of altered freshwater flow into estuaries.
Because of their key ecological roles and sensitivity to freshwater flow, alligators and crocodiles have been identified as a system-wide indicator of the health of Everglades environments. Long-term monitoring of these species contributes to an understanding of how the ecosystem is responding to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). For alligators, we monitor relative density (number of alligators per kilometer), body condition (measured as length/weight ratio), and percent of alligator holes that are occupied. Crocodile performance measures are growth (cm/day) and survival rate. Monitoring data are combined and displayed on a map in "stoplight" colors to represent the status of the alligator and crocodile populations and progress toward meeting restoration goals.