, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 777-790

Conservation and management of the American crocodile

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Abstract

The American crocodile is a rare and endangered species, the range of which has contracted to disjunct locations such as Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Panama, and southern Florida. In an attempt to determine what factors might be limiting population growth, an extensive collaborative research program was conducted in 1978–82 in southern Florida. Limiting factors explicitly studied included climate, hurricanes, population dispersion, nesting habitat, fertility, predation, nest chamber environment, juvenile survivorship, artificial mortality, disturbance, and environmental contamination. No single natural factor limits the population, although in concert various factors result in low adult recruitment rates. Such natural limitations explain the natural rarity of this tropical species at the temperate limits of its range. Two artificial sources of mortality are death of adults on roads and the flooding of nests by high groundwater tables. These sources of mortality are potentially controllable by the appropriate management agencies. Active management, by such means as protection of individuals, habitat preservation and enhancement, nest site protection, and captive breeding, is also appropriate for assuring the survival of a rare species. The American crocodile has survived in southern Florida in face of extensive human occupancy of parts of its former nesting habitat, demonstrating the resilience of a threatened species. This case history illustrates the efficacy of conducting research aimed at testing specific management hypotheses, the importance of considering biographical constraints limiting population status in peripheral populations, the need for active management of rare species, and the role of multiple reserves in a conservation and management strategy.