Natural and Anthropogenic Factors Influencing Nesting Ecology of the American Crocodile in Florida, United States

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Abstract

Nesting ecology of American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) in Florida has been both positively and negatively influenced by anthropogenic and natural factors since the species was placed on the federally endangered species list in 1975. This includes a shift in nesting sites and an expansion of nesting to anthropogenic habitat. Using a 50-year record of monitoring data (1970-2020), we assessed factors influencing nesting ecology (number of nests, nest morphology, success rate, and habitat use) from a total of 3,013 nests recorded across South Florida. We detected a change in nesting success rate, increasing from 61% in the 1970’s to near 90% since 2010. Our hot spot analysis illustrates that nesting sites in northeastern Florida Bay and Flamingo/Cape Sable (Everglades National Park) were important for American crocodiles. Anthropogenic habitats, such as canals provided vital habitat nesting in areas such as Flamingo/Cape Sable (Everglades National Park), Turkey Point Power Plant, and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge for the current Florida population. Environmental parameters suspected to affect nesting success have shown an increasing trend over the past 50 years and minimum temperature and rainfall, during the summer season, are correlated with increased nesting success and temporal variation across South Florida. The adaptive capacity that American crocodiles exhibited in Florida gave the species advantages to face changes in climate and landscape over the last 50 years, however, it does not imply that the adaptive capacity of the species to face these changes (evolutionary potential) cannot reach a limit if changes continue. Here, we document C. acutus nesting ecology population responses to ecosystem restoration efforts in Florida; and further demonstrate the value of protecting and restoring habitat to support recovery of listed species.

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Mazzotti, F. J., Balaguera-Reina, S. A., Brandt, L. A., Briggs-González, V., Cherkiss, M., Farris, S., & Godahewa, A. (2022). Natural and Anthropogenic Factors Influencing Nesting Ecology of the American Crocodile in Florida, United States. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2022.904576

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