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How Does the Decline in Alligators Affect the Ecosystem?

3269 words (13 pages) Essay in Environmental Studies

08/02/20 Environmental Studies Reference this

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Abstract

The wetlands/everglades are the unique area located in Southern Florida that include various amount of wildlife that are dependent on one another in survival. The Florida Everglades is a flowing “river of grass” and an international treasure, threatened by agricultural and residential development and by climate change. The last thirty years the alligator has been under attack by man and their geographical surroundings. Alligators are mystery and a myth to man when discussing the survival of the American alligator, due to its existence since the prehistoric era. As the top predator of the Everglades, alligators have a large impact on the ecosystem through their interactions with and consumption of other animals. An American alligator is considered ecosystem engineers has been essential to the ecosystem and especially in the Everglades wetlands located in Southern Florida. The alligators make “water holes” in the ground in the summer time, that holds water for other animals as well as themselves in the harsh winter time.

With the lack of presence of the alligator, wildlife in the Everglades has been scarce and on the brink of survival with the loss of its water holes, that will ultimately affect the water supply for Florida natives. Human interference with the Everglades, or the so-called River of Grass, has changed the historic flow of water and subsequently disrupted the animals’ food supply as well as an introduction of a new predator, negatively affecting the wildlife, especially the American alligator.

Pythons play a part in the alligator’s disappearance. The pythons have been suffocated and devouring everything sight, including the American alligator. This invasive species disrupts the already disrupted stability of the homes of the Everglades’ indigenous population.

Being an ecosystem engineer is essential to the ecosystem and the sustainability of life surrounding the American alligator. In this proposal we are taking a deeper look into the importance of the American alligator and its role in the ecosystem, we have to observe its importance and what life would be without the species.

When asking the question “What importance does the decline in alligators and its effect the ecosystem,” we have to find its importance, purpose, effect with the reptile’s presence and without.  We also have to determine methods to discover the outcomes and methods to manipulate the environment that has been corrupted.

Introduction

The common misconception of an American alligator is that it is only a predator that preys on the population that is indigenous to Louisiana and Southern Florida. The alligator can know be noted as an unsung hero. The American alligator was first listed as endangered in 1967, due to poorly regulated hunting and habitat loss. The alligator is one of the last standing if not the last standing prehistoric species in existence marking its initial existence over 200 million years ago. Ironically, just 30 years ago the American gator— Alligator Mississippians— was a threatened species: hunted, harassed, and crowded to the brink of endangerment by people who saw them as little more than dangerous pests on swampland that could be drained and developed. Delin, McClintock, 2001)

Alligators are located in Louisiana but is seen more commonly in the Everglades of Southern Florida. The alligator is known as an unsung hero to the animals and wildlife that belong to the Everglades. In the wetlands, alligators create holes in the area for many reasons including staying cool during the hot weather, to lure potential prey and mate and reproduce.  Many species including fish, snakes, turtles, insects and birds benefit when American alligators create wetland depressions that hold water during dry periods. In addition, the alligator holds importance to recreation and tourism, as the Everglades is the primary drinking source for South Floridians as well. (Houston) With holing the water alligators create the supply for the demand in water.

In 1904, The governor of Florida, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, issued a drainage of the everglades seeking a “dry empire” causing a decline in wildlife due to dehydration. In 1983, noticing a change in the abundance of wildlife, the Governor Bob Graham announced the formation of the Save Our Everglades campaign with the goal of restoring the Everglades to its condition as of 1900, but the condition did not change the population of the alligators indigenous to the area, and also change the appearance of the reptile. The reptiles are scrawny, weighing 80 percent of what they should. The alligators grow more slowly, reproduce less, and die younger. “We’ve seen some alligators in some years that have been basically skin and bones,” says Laura Brandt, a wildlife biologist at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in south Florida. “And when we get concerned is when we see multiple alligators like that.” Since being removed from the endangered species list, the American alligator’s eggs have been caught by researchers and harvested to produce alligators’ farms to release into the Everglades to restore life and balance that was once held.

People are scared of alligators. But in the Florida Everglades, alligators are scared of pythons. (O’Kane) An unlikely predator has entered into the everglades and is there to stay. Humans who kept them as pets released different species of pythons into the Everglades during the last 10 years. Specifically, the Burmese pythons, in turn, have created a negative impact on the Everglades’ population drastically. Non-native Burmese pythons have established a breeding population in South Florida and is one of the most concerning invasive species in Everglades National Park. Pythons compete with native wildlife for food, which includes mammals, birds, and other reptiles. Severe mammal declines in Everglades National Park have been linked to Burmese pythons. A python eat everything in sight of them and carries out its mission, which is to conquer and destroy any lasting life that encompasses the Everglades. The invasive species has invaded the ecosystem that is carried out by the Everglades and can ultimately disrupt the human’s water supply in Florida. Because the snakes lay tens of thousands of eggs throughout the year, the population is growing rapidly. In Florida, the state government has begun initiatives in order to combat the invasive species and deplete its existence in the Everglades.  Entitled he Python Elimination Program, The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board is taking aggressive action to protect the Everglades and eliminate invasive pythons from its public lands. Starting in March 2017, the Python Elimination Program incentivizes a limited number of public-spirited individuals to kill these destructive snakes, which have become an apex predator in the Everglades. (2017) this species alone could eliminate the alligators that are sent out to sustain the environment, and deplete the water supply that is in the Everglades.

It is important to uncover the contributing factor that affects the species that is an ecosystem engineer and can drastically change the sustainability of life. Ultimately, human interference has played the biggest part in the decline of the alligators, initially almost driving it into extinction. What is being investigated and drawn out is the species that benefit from the American alligator and how and who its decline, effects.

Question

In this proposal, we will attempt to answer the question of “how will the decline of the American alligator effect the ecosystem?”

Why? The American alligator is essential to many areas of wildlife as a predator in Southern Florida and presence is essential in the Everglades survival as it’s on the brink of extinction.

How? The water depression formed by alligators hold water during the harsh months that do not receive rainfall and supply food to the neighboring animals in the Everglades

What if? What if alligators did not exist or was pushed to existence. Who would win or lose?

When? When the everglades eventually deplete, and it causes the water supply to suffer in South Florida.

 

Materials and Methods

To conduct this research, we are going to travel to Everglades, Florida to visit the Everglades National Park of Florida. We plan to spend at least 5 days there to observe the alligators and how they interact with their environment. Over the course of those 5 days, we will record how many males and females are in the National Park and if the females produced any eggs, we will tally those numbers up as well. This will be needed to determine the ratio of alligators living there.

American alligators are very interesting because the temperature of how the eggs develop determines the sex of the egg. If eggs are present then we will check the temperature of the water, because if it is 90-93 degrees Fahrenheit then that will let us know that the eggs are males. If the temperature is around 82-86 degrees Fahrenheit, then that indicates that the eggs are females. The eggs grow rapidly in the first few years and during their life expectancy, they can grow at least a foot every year. Changes in patterns of water levels in the Everglades (including increases in frequency and intensity of droughts) have resulted in increased physiological stress for alligators, habitat degradation, and reduction in prey base (Jacobsen and Kushlan, 1989). Hopefully we can find a way to help regulate water levels or find more areas in the U.S to place the alligators so that they can grow in population size.

Alligators body condition, which is what state their body is depending on how their blood flows through their body. The only way we would be able to determine this is by taking a blood sample of an American alligator in the Everglades. The blood sample would help determine what kind of shape the alligator is in as far as their health and fitness. Body condition describes how an animal is dealing with environmental stressors and reflect energy reserves that can be used for growth or reproduction (Murphy et. Al., 1990, Taylor, 1979). Depending on the water levels, it can have an effect on the alligator’s body condition. A solution for this problem can be finding a place that does not have as many water level changes as the Everglades does. In figure 1, it shows the water levels and locations of where alligators are captured.

Being that there are many power plants in Florida, we are going to take samples of the water to determine if they are any toxins that could cause harm to the alligators. Sometimes plants have a chemical spill, or a chemical is released in the environment and that can cause harm to living organisms. Even though the spill can be miles away water travels fast and could have somehow ended up in the Everglades. If animals were in the area of a chemical spill and traveled to the everglades and an alligator eats it then it can be contaminated as well. With that being said, we also are going to have to run test on some of the organisms living in the same environment as alligators. Just to make sure that the animals they are consuming does not have other toxins.

Humans also play a role in the decline because they capture them and use their skin for shoes, jackets, purses, etc. Humans also eat alligator, in many different ways such as, fried alligator, sometimes it is placed in gumbo, as well as jambalaya, soup, and boudin. There are many other ways it can be cooked but those are just a few. We can solve this problem by limiting the hunting that is being done. For example, you can only hunt deer during deer season if you do it outside of the season and get caught you can be fined or placed in jail. If we made alligator, hunting a season maybe that would help with preventing a decline in them.

 Another key factor is identifying the other predators/competition in the Everglades. If alligators decline it will allow other animals to move up on the food chart and knowing which ones will help a lot to determine what could happen and how that will change the ecosystem. Predators that are normally controlled by alligators can become uncontrollable if there is decline in the species. Predators will start to take over the ecosystem and consume more organisms than needed and cause the balance in the environment to be messed up.

Anticipated Outcomes

The results from the temperature will help us determine how many male and female alligators are in the environment. Once we have that number it should help us know overall how many alligators are in the Everglades and predict how many of the females will reproduce. If the blood temperature results are not up to par then we will be able to do research and find ways to help get their body conditions regulated so that they will be in good shape. If the blood conditions are good and healthy then we will be able to document that, which is not the reason why there is a decline and we can focus on other issues.

Humans have destroyed a lot of things on this Earth and are the reason for a lot of its downfalls. If the data shows that they are the reason for the decline and the up rise of other organisms, then that will help us dictate what actions need to be taken in order to fix the problem. Assuming the data shows how many alligators are killed for personal use, we will be able to document the ratio/percentage. If the percentage/ratio is high, then we can possibly take this research to some officials and see about getting a law created.

Depending on the results from the power plants located in Florida will determine what can and can’t be done. If the results show that toxins in animals or alone found its way in the Everglades, then we can document that and show toxin screens so that it will be able to determine which company it came from. Hopefully all this data will help us get to the root of the problem so that we can help maintain a balance in the ecosystem. Also, we hope that the data will be beneficial to us, as well as helping us inform the community and getting the word out.

Significance

I believe that our research will help us answer our question as to how the decline of alligators effect the ecosystem because the test that we are going to run play a key factor in the decline of alligators. The research that will be conducted will give us results with the numbers, percentages, toxin reports, and blood samples. These are multiple way to help us determine the reason for the decline and then asses how it is affecting the ecosystem. Other questions that will help with address the results would be What other predators live in the Everglades? or Why do alligators play such a huge role in their environment? Those questions are broad, but they still help address the results that will be retained from this research.

Budget

Being that we only have a budget of $1500 we decided to use it very wisely which is why we chose a state closer to us so that the travel expenses would be that high. We plan to drive our car 10 hours to Everglades, Florida and the gas expenses for there and back are about $300. Being that neither one of us are from Florida we will need a place to reside so a hotel for about 5 days will cost us $700. To begin our research we will need creek waders, gloves (for when we try to interact with the animals), a thermometer, toxicology screens for the water which would cost us $60, needles for blood samples will cost around $20, and the last thing needed will be microscopes so that we can look at the blood samples and find out what’s going on. Overall we will use $1,080 with a sum of $420 left.

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