Why Do We Study Alligators?

American alligators have been roaming the black waters of the Okefenokee Swamp long before our human explorations of these amazing habitats. It did not take long after our arrival, however, for us to realize their importance to the swamp ecosystem, to other animals, and to us. In recent and exciting history, the earth trembled as Okefenokee Swamp Park and the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant joined forces to begin alligator swamp research. Our goals are to advance our understanding of the who, when, and where of our swamp alligator family so that we may further our ability to manage and conserve this alligator population that is so precious to us and needs to be valued by future generations.

We launch the boats and forge our notepads as scientists and share their stories with you here. You also can learn more on our social media platforms, or even better yet, visit the swamp and climb into the boat yourself!

Alligator basking on a log

Research Objectives

Our research is cross-cutting across three primary areas

Movement & Behavior

Movement
  • Where are alligators in the swamp relative to where we (people) are?
  • Where are alligators at different times of year, and in different seasons? 
  • Do they only move through water, or also over land?
Behavior
  • How do they choose, court and compete for their mates?
  • How do mamas select their nesting sites? 
  • How to mothers interact with and protect their offspring?
  • How does relatedness influence behavior?
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Health

Diet
  • What are alligators in a swamp habitat eating compared to alligators in different habitats throughout their range?
  • How and when does diet preference or ability to eat different prey items shift among small and large alligators?
  • Do they eat prey items that people also hunt and fish for?
Ecotoxicology
  • How much mercury (a heavy metal contaminant) is in alligators of different sizes and from different habitats?
  • Where does the mercury come from and how does it accumulate in the environment and organisms?
  • Given that alligators are long-lived animals like us, and eat some of the same things, can our research on alligator health help inform us about our own health?
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Relatedness

Genetics
  • What is the alligator family tree in the swamp?
  • How do alligator behaviors, particularly mating and dating relationships, influence who is making babies together?
  • How can we use these genetics to understand the needs for the long-term conservation of Okefenokee alligator populations?
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The University of Georgia Marine Extension & Sea Grant

All photos by University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, unless otherwise noted.