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UNF researchers publish first ever study of urban alligators

It’s called Alligators in the Big City

UNF researchers have spent the past year looking for Alligators in Jacksonville's more urban areas. News4Jax reporter Emily Boyer spoke with them about what they discovered in this first of its kind study.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Researchers at the University of North Florida are leading the charge in the study of alligators in big cities.

Assistant professor of biology Adam Rosenblatt and grad student Eli Beal were the first published study looking at how urbanization is affecting gator populations.

The study called, Alligators in the big city: spatial ecology of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) at multiple scales across an urban landscape, was published in Scientific Reports Journal.

Their approach involved conducting nighttime spotlight surveys of nine tributaries of the St. Johns River during each season for a year.

Rosenblatt and Beal recorded other conditions present when an alligator was found, including salinity of the water, air temperature, and surrounding land use type.

After the project, Rosenblatt and Beal recorded a total of 93 alligator sightings, but only one of those was an adult, meaning it was longer than 6-feet.

Their findings paint a different picture than the impression you may have got from recent news stories. When giant alligators are spotted in Florida, they usually make for big news and typically go viral and may lead you to think there are a lot of large alligators in and around Jacksonville.

Take, for example, last year when this video went viral of an alligator climbing a fence at NAS Jax.

Gator on base

ONLY IN FLORIDA: A News4Jax viewer shared this video of a gator scaling the fence at NAS Jax on Saturday.

Posted by WJXT4 The Local Station / News4JAX on Sunday, August 18, 2019

More recently, two stories about alligator harvests went viral-- like this one, when hunters captured a 12-foot 465-pound gator in Green Cove Springs. Another story went viral when hunters harvested another 12-foot gator, this one weighing more than 600 pounds.

But according to this latest research, monster alligators like them, are getting increasingly rare.

“We’re not saying there are no adults anywhere in our area, but the ones that are left are probably very, what we call cryptic which means they’re really good at hiding and not being discovered by people, but you know with millions of people living in Northeast Florida, people are still going to stumble across large gators,” Rosenblatt said.

RELATED: Neighbors of Miramar neighborhood keeping watchful eye for gator

Rosenblatt and Beal said their study shows urban development in Jacksonville-area has driven large alligators away due to habitat degradation and because the gators that don’t relocate are frequently targeted for removal by nuisance trappers or hunters.

As urban areas in Florida are projected to double in size within the next 40 to 50 years, Rosenblatt said this could lead to serious consequences for Florida’s ecosystem.

“People and alligators are going to be coming into more conflict right and we’re kind of going to be shoving them out of the habitats that used to live. For people who are concerned about alligators or the environment in general, this is a concern. If you lose the large predator from a certain ecosystem, and that ecosystem can get totally thrown out of whack.”

For now, nuisance alligators, those one to five-feet in length, are still common in Florida and it’s helping to maintain balance.

Read the full study here.

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