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Nest Attendance Patterns in the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
- Merchant, Mark, Savage, Dusty, Cooper, Amos, Slaughter, Monique, Perkin, Joshuah S., Murray, Christopher M.
- Copeia 2018 v.106 no.3 pp. 421-426
- Alligator mississippiensis, alligators, cameras, eggs, hatching, mothers, nesting, nesting sites, oviposition, photographs, temporal variation
- The behavioral variation in alligator nest attendance has characterized the species as iconic in common lore and perplexed biologists for decades. Here, we quantify patterns in nest attendance among mothers as well as variation in such patterns throughout two nesting seasons. We employed camera traps controlled by circuit boards to capture time-lapse photographs of alligator nest areas for the duration of each nesting season. Data revealed a bimodal pattern of nest attendance over time that significantly varied across incubation days in both 2011 and 2012, and also differed between years. Nest attendance also differed among hours in the diel cycle, and this pattern was the same for both years. Nest visits were frequent immediately after the eggs were laid, and attendance behavior attenuated rapidly after the first week of incubation. Nest visitation then increased near the end of the incubation period with the largest portion of visits recorded during hatching and the maternal movement of hatchlings away from nest sites. While the extent of this pattern varied between years, the pattern itself did not. The majority of attendance behavior occurred during night hours, with little visitation recorded between 1000 and 1600 hours. Our study is the first to document temporal variation in alligator nest attendances at daily, seasonal, and annual temporal scales, and our findings suggest nighttime visits during oviposition and hatching periods are consistent among years.