2 Investigates

UGA researchers tracking alligators to understand more about climate change impacts on reptiles

AIKEN, S.C. — UGA PhD students and researchers are out on a remote lake just over the Georgia-South Carolina border working to understand how changes in the earth’s temperature may impact reptiles.

Channel 2′s Berndt Petersen went with the team on a lake called Par Pond. It’s near Aiken, South Carolina which is about a three-hour drive from Atlanta.

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The work UGA is doing on Par Pond could tell us whether reptiles like alligators or turtles may face possible extinction as temperatures rise.

It’s a year-round project that starts at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. An alligator’s gender is not decided until after eggs are in the nest. Cooler nest temperatures produce females. Warmer ones produce males.

Dr. Benjamin Parrott is an assistant professor at UGA’s Odom School of Ecology. He told Petersen “As they climate warms, we are predicting that there will be many more males than females.”

That may eventually mean fewer reptiles and an uncertain future for the ones already on the endangered species list.

“You have certain populations that ultimately do not persist into the future,” Parrott said.


So, the team of researchers drive into the night to keep track of the roughly four hundred alligators that call Par Pond home. They use headlamps and flashlights to spot the alligators’ glowing eyes.

While on the lake, Petersen saw two captures: A small alligator and a bit larger one.

The team uses a snare to safely bring the alligators onto the boat, take measurements, tag, and release them. UGA also records the rising and falling temperatures in the nests so they can replicate those living environments in the lab.

The goal is to figure out what the future holds for reptiles and other species that call our planet home and change potential negative outcomes before it’s too late.

“Maybe it’s too early to say whether alligators are doomed per se, but I think that’s the whole reason we’re out here. To get a better understanding of that,” PhD student Samantha Bock said.

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