Seen at right is a bayou in Louisiana. Water in a habitat such as this tends to move slowly,
making it desirable to alligators. Water darkened by natural
tannins (from leaves, branches, etc.) provides security for hiding
'gators, especially smaller ones.
(Image: © istockphoto/pmstephens)
The reptile's importance to its habitat is so
high that it may be referred to as a "keystone" species for multiple
reasons, including these discussed below.
alligator is a dominant predatory species and regulates animal populations
when it takes prey. Natural elements and the balance of their use are
sent awry without an apex predator that can eat practically any prey.
Too many of a species, such as rabbits or turtles, places burdens on
other populations affected, as well as on parts of the habitat. Balance
is sought by nautre.
As a "hydrologist" the 'gator will dig water holes
during the dry season, providing much-needed hydration for
animal life. Using its powerful muscular body, it will manipulate mud and dirt
around it, displacing it in order to tap the water beneath, thus
maintaining water depth. This achievement provides available water to
The image at left shows an alligator floating beneath nesting birds at a
rookery in north-eastern Florida.
alligator may serve as a sentry to nesting birds. A
curious aspect of its regulatory work is it presence among bird nesting
habitat. Birds will nest in trees and brush over the water's edge to
secure a distance from would-be predators seeking to eat their eggs or
young. A hungry raccoon, for instance, may only approach such a limb
from the water, but dares not, lest he become alligator food.
The nests of alligators are sometimes shared by
aquatic turtles. A turtle will lay her eggs in
the lower section of a nest, and leave them. Her eggs will
incubate in optimum levels of temperature and moisture, and of course,
will be guarded by a fierce mama alligator. Some species of turtle may
hatch up to 200 babies, which will enter the ecosystem and play their
own role in it.
POLLUTION. Chemicals and natural waste
material proliferate in waterways in the the alligator's range,
especially Florida, where the robust human population -- its
residential developments and vegetable and cattle famring -- have
polluted the water with chemical toxins as well as great amounts
of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, which is derived from fertilizers, cattle manure, human
sewage and other sources. Nutrient pollution, called
eutrophication, is an issue throughout the United States
and in other parts of the world.
Decades of such unchecked activity
have resulted in
dense masses of algae literally
choking oxygen from waterways, lakes and
springs, aquatic systems which are vital, absolutely vital,
to the health of ecology and human environmental well-being.
Algae is a green-colored microorganism which
resembles thick sludge when it is abundant in water. The formerly healthy waters are being
of oxygen and sunlight, thus destroying aquatic life, including
the animal prey the alligator feeds on, and the plant life the prey subsists on. Even
the endangered manatee is threatened by it.
In some cases the algal "blooms" caused
by an overabundance of nutrients are so volumninous that
swimming in them can cause serious illness in humans and animals. The unique
and famous waters of Florida, for example, are especially endangered, due to
warm temperatures, abundant sunlight and prevalent human
A marsh invaded by algal
bloom is shown in the image above.
Vance, Courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)
YOUR ROLE. You can play an important role in the long-term
curing of the environment of this bio-disorder, wherever it
occurs. Please visit the links provided below
to learn more, and you are encouraged to expand your reading on
the subject and to share your learning with family, friends and
• Protect Florida's Water. Stop!
Pointless Personal Pollution, a brochure by the
Environmental Protection Agency.
• Understanding Algal Blooms, by
St. Johns River Water Management District.
• Nutrient Pollution, an infographic by
Environmental Protection Agency.