UNF assistant professor conducts study on climate change on alligator population

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Alligators seem to be everywhere you turn in Florida.

While some may think the reptiles are frightening—or fascinating—they’re an important part of our ecosystem and economy in Florida.

In fact, an imbalance between the male and female population could lead to reproduction issues and even extinction.

Action News Jax's Courtney Cole visited the University of North Florida to see how one assistant professor is trying to prevent that from happening.

Alligators are some of the most feared predators in all of Florida.

Dr. Adam Rosenblatt, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Florida, says they have an extremely important role in the food chain.

"They’re an ecologically important species. They’re the top predator, they’re the largest predator in the area they live in. They eat lots of different kinds of prey,” Rosenblatt told Action News Jax.

Alligators are also a big part of Florida’s economy.

“Florida Fish and Wildlife estimates the alligator industry brings in about $20 million every year, and that’s just Florida,” said Rosenblatt.

That's where these come in: These blue tubs are alligator nests built to replicate nests in the wild.

"Each of these is our best effort to reproduce a real alligator nest from the wild. They’re about this wide and they’re about this tall and they’re built of dirt and grass just like we have here,” Rosenblatt said.

There are 20 eggs in each nest, 400 in total.

The eggs came from the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, because you need a special permit to collect eggs in the state of Florida.

Rosenblatt is conducting an experiment to see how future climate change could affect the alligator population.

“In humans, it’s [your biological sex] determined by your genes, your chromosomes. You have two X chromosomes, you’re a woman. I have an X and a Y chromosome, I’m a man,” Rosenblatt said, “In alligators and many reptiles, that’s not the case. Whether you’re a male or a female in those reptile species is determined by the temperature of the nest.”

Rosenblatt told Action News Jax females are usually produced in very high temperatures or very low temperatures. Temperatures must be in the middle, (not too hot and not too cold), to produce a male alligator.

That's why you'll see some of the nests wrapped in vinyl, that will trap heat inside the nest, in comparison to some of the other nests wrapped in wire.

Rosenblatt says there are naturally more female alligators in the population, than male alligators but if it shifts too far in one direction it could lead to reproduction problems or possibly one day extinction.

He's hoping to use this experiment to determine how he could prevent those things from happening.

The eggs were laid in the middle of June. Incubation can take anywhere from 60-90 days, but Rosenblatt says he’s expecting these eggs to hatch around the middle to the end of August.

Once they hatch, Rosenblatt will present his findings to wildlife managers and hopes to expand his research in the future.