American alligators were hunted to near extinction at the turn of the 20th century. Today, their comeback is one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time. Despite their toothy demeanor and undeserving bad reputation, alligators are keystone species in many different watersheds around the United States. In the Everglades, however, they are architects and engineers, physically shaping the landscape through millennia of nest building and behavioral responses to their environment. By excavating deep pools of water, they are able to stay wet during the prolonged dry season in the Everglades. These pools are then teeming with fish and amphibians during the winter months. Their ecosystem engineering plays a major role in the survival of many bird and fish species. This essay and image portfolio help to give a new perspective on alligators not as vicious man-eaters, but as necessary components to the wetland ecology of the Everglades.
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