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Spatial and stage-structured population model of the American crocodile for comparison of comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) alternatives

November 25, 2010

As part of the U.S. Geological Survey Priority Ecosystems Science (PES) initiative to provide the ecological science required during Everglades restoration, we have integrated current regional hydrologic models with American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) research and monitoring data to create a model that assesses the potential impact of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) efforts on the American crocodile. A list of indicators was created by the Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) component of CERP to help determine the success of interim restoration goals. The American crocodile was established as an indicator of the ecological condition of mangrove estuaries due to its reliance upon estuarine environments characterized by low salinity and adequate freshwater inflow. To gain a better understanding of the potential impact of CERP restoration efforts on the American crocodile, a spatially explicit crocodile population model has been created that has the ability to simulate the response of crocodiles to various management strategies for the South Florida ecosystem. The crocodile model uses output from the Tides and Inflows in the Mangroves of the Everglades (TIME) model, an application of the Flow and Transport in a Linked Overland/Aquifer Density Dependent System (FTLOADDS) simulator. TIME has the capability to link to the South Florida Water Management Model (SFWMM), which is the primary regional tool used to assess CERP restoration scenarios. A crocodile habitat suitability index and spatial parameter maps that reflect salinity, water depth, habitat, and nesting locations are used as driving functions to construct crocodile finite rate of increase maps under different management scenarios. Local stage-structured models are integrated with a spatial landscape grid to display crocodile movement behavior in response to changing environmental conditions. Restoration efforts are expected to affect salinity levels throughout the habitat of the American crocodile. This modeling effort examines how CERP restoration alternatives will affect growth and survival rates of hatchling and juvenile crocodiles, hatchling dispersal to suitable nursery habitat, and relative abundance and distribution in response to changing salinity and water depth for all stage classes of crocodiles. The response of the American crocodile to restoration efforts will provide a quantifiable measure of restoration success. By applying the crocodile model to proposed restoration alternatives and predicting population responses, we can choose alternatives that approximate historical conditions, enhance habitat for multiple species, and identify future research needs.