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American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) as restoration bioindicators in the Florida Everglades

May 19, 2021

The federally threatened American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is a flagship species and ecological indicator of hydrologic restoration in the Florida Everglades. We conducted a long-term capture-recapture study on the South Florida population of American crocodiles from 1978 to 2015 to evaluate the effects of restoration efforts to more historic hydrologic conditions. The study produced 10,040 crocodile capture events of 9,865 individuals and more than 90% of captures were of hatchlings. Body condition and growth rates of crocodiles were highly age-structured with younger crocodiles presenting with the poorest body condition and highest growth rates. Mean crocodile body condition in this study was 2.14±0.35 SD across the South Florida population. Crocodiles exposed to hypersaline conditions (> 40 psu) during the dry season maintained lower body condition scores and reduced growth rate by 13% after one year, by 24% after five years, and by 29% after ten years. Estimated hatchling survival for the South Florida population was 25% increasing with ontogeny and reaching near 90% survival at year six. Hatchling survival was 34% in NE Florida Bay relative to a 69% hatchling survival at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and 53% in Flamingo area of Everglades National Park. Hypersaline conditions negatively affected survival, growth and body condition and was most pronounced in NE Florida Bay, where the hydrologic conditions have been most disturbed. The American crocodile, a long-lived animal, with relatively slow growth rate provides an excellent model system to measure the effects of altered hydropatterns in the Everglades landscape. These results illustrate the need for continued long-term monitoring to assess system-wide restoration outcomes and inform resource managers.

Publication Year 2021
Title American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) as restoration bioindicators in the Florida Everglades
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0250510
Authors Venetia S. Briggs-Gonzalez, Mathieu Basille, Michael Cherkiss, Frank J. Mazzotti
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70233540
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center