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Throughout history, crocodilians have been both persecuted as pests and used for meat and leather. Until recently, only three crocodilian species have been recognized as indigenous to Africa, but recent evolutionary studies, including those undertaken by Heithaus Lab's Dr. Matt Shirley, revealed that Africa contains, in fact, seven unique crocodile species!



Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are an abundant, large-bodied predator in the Everglades freshwater and estuarine habitats. We've conducted research on alligators in the Florida Everglades for almost a decade. Our research has focused on the transition zones between saltwater and freshwater areas in the Shark River basin. The goal is to anticipate how these animals will respond to changes in water flow from an ongoing large scale restoration project. The lab is also conducting surveys and experiments to look at the ecosystem-level effects of alligators through their role as ecosystem engineers primarily in phosphorus-poor Everglades freshwater marshes.

West African Slender-Snouted Crocodile (Mecistops Cataphractus)

West African slender-snouted crocodiles is restricted to West Africa where we estimate only 500 adults may be left in the wild, making it one of the most endangered vertebrates in the world. Following from Dr. Shirley’s research revising the systematics of the genus Mecistops, his research with this species is seeking to better inform our conservation efforts. We are researching slender-snouted crocodile movement, territorial and habitat selection ecology to better inform reintroduction efforts. We are assessing the efficacy of existing protected areas networks to protect critical, remaining populations of this species, while concurrently working to estimate species abundance. And, we are modeling the factors underlying its current and future distribution. Our work relies on conservation technologies ranging from telemetry to environmental (e)DNA.


Congo Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus Osborni)

Dwarf crocodiles are a complex of 3 cryptic, diminutive crocodile species that are distributed throughout the forest ecosystems of Central and West Africa. They are unique from most other crocodiles in that they are heavily terrestrial and are one of the most important terrestrial predators in Afrotropical forests. In many countries, dwarf crocodiles are also among the most important bushmeat resources for local communities. Dr. Shirley’s research with these species seeks to better inform our conservation efforts. We are researching dwarf crocodile phylogeography and modeling the factors underlying its current and future distribution. We are working to develop standardized survey and monitoring protocols so that local authorities can monitor the impact of extensive harvest. And, we are researching the ecological and evolutionary implications of dwarf crocodiles inhabiting cave ecosystems. Our work relies on conservation technologies, including environmental (e)DNA, and other tools, like molecular markers and paristology, to better understand this species role in the ecosystem.