For Gators on Golf Courses, Diet Is a Bit of a Challenge

Instead of crustaceans, maybe a cat, some canned corn, and a cheeseburger with fries
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2023 8:55 AM CDT
Golf Courses Are Messing With Gators' Diets
Course marshal Bart Dornier stands watch for golfers to walk around "Tripod", a resident 3-legged alligator, as he crosses the 18th fairway during the first round of the PGA Zurich Classic golf tournament at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La., Thursday, April 25, 2019.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Golf courses, with their green space and ponds, have been shown to benefit wildlife when compared with other human-altered landscapes. But as Advanced Science News points out, previous studies looked at the abundance and diversity of animals on golf courses rather than the relationships between animals. Now, a new study offering a concentrated look at the diet of alligators living on golf courses on a popular tourist island off Georgia shows all is not rosy. While gators on a less-populated, more-isolated neighboring island with no golf courses were found to dine on crustaceans, insects, and spiders, gators on Jekyll Island were eating more fish, fewer crustaceans, and other items, including a cat, a fishing lure, canned corn, and a cheeseburger with fries, per a release.

While golf courses (said to number 4,000 in the southeastern US) provide a refuge for alligators as their natural habitat dwindles, "alligators living on golf courses change their feeding habits because they don't move around as much and because there are different types of prey available on golf courses," says Adam Rosenblatt, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Florida and lead author of the study published late last month in Ecology and Evolution. Researchers speculate that alligators on Sapelo Island, which is only accessible by boat, can easily move between freshwater and marine environments, whereas alligators on Jekyll Island, which has four golf courses and is visited by 1 million tourists a year, are more limited in their movements.

The study did not investigate how the changes in diet affect the long-term health of Jekyll Island's alligators. But researchers believe there are likely to be negative effects, including through potential exposure to human-made chemicals. "Land use change can strongly alter the feeding patterns of large-bodied predators and, as a result, may affect their body condition, exposure to human-made chemicals, and role within ecological communities," according to the study. "If we want large predators to be able to feed in the ways they normally do, we need to make sure they have the ability to move around the landscape through habitats that are connected to each other," Rosenblatt tells Advanced Science News. (Read more alligator stories.)

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