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Clemson researchers to track coastal alligators

Clemson University researchers will begin tracking alligators in the Lowcountry to better understand their population and movement. (Photo source: Matthew Field) Clemson University researchers will begin tracking alligators in the Lowcountry to better understand their population and movement. (Photo source: Matthew Field)
Clemson, SC (WCSC) -

Clemson will begin satellite tracking alligators in the Lowcountry as part of a study to better understand the reptiles, according to a release from the university.

Its South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit will use the information to figure out the alligator population, movement patterns and ecology.

The information collected will help the state's Department of Natural Resources design a long-term adaptive harvesting strategy, researchers say, and may be more accurate than tracking methods used in other states.

In Louisiana and Florida, wildlife managers rely on "night light surveys," in which they shine spotlights into waterways and wetlands, then count eye reflection and estimate alligator size by approximating the distance from eyes to the tip of the snout of each alligator. South Carolina uses a similar method to track the alligator population.

"South Carolina alligator habitat is very diverse," Assistant Professor Dr. Katherine McFadden said.

McFadden, who works in Clemson's School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, says the habitat "includes tidal marshes, wooded swamps, rivers, lakes and other areas.

"A lot of these places can't be reached by nightlight surveys or require different monitoring techniques," McFadden said.

This is the first time male alligator movement has been tracked in South Carolina and is believed to be the northernmost alligator movement study within the alligator’s home range, according to the release.

Researchers chose the Santee Delta region of the state for the study because it already contains multiple nightlight survey routes already monitored by DNR. The Santee Delta region comprises Southern Georgetown County, Berkeley County and Northern Charleston County for the purposes of the study, according to School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences spokesman Jonathan Veit.

The information will help DNR as it manages the state's alligator population and issues alligator harvesting permits. DNR issues roughly 4,400 permits per year during the season that runs from the second Saturday in September through the second Saturday in October.

Copyright 2014 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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