The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) has made a remarkable recovery throughout its range during the last half-century. In Texas, USA, current inland alligator population and harvest management strategies rely on generalized and often site-specific habitat and population data generated from coastal populations, because it is assumed that habitat and demographic similarities exist between inland and coastal populations. These assumptions have not been verified, however, and no studies have specifically examined inland alligator habitat use in Texas. We quantified alligator habitat use in East Texas during 2003–2004 to address this information gap and to facilitate development of regionally specific management strategies. Although habitat was variable among study areas, alligators used habitats with >50% open water, substantial floating vegetation, and emergent vegetation close (<12 m) to dry ground and cover. Adults used habitats further from dry ground and cover, in open water (75–85%), with less floating vegetation (6–22%) than did subadults, which used habitats that were closer to dry ground and cover, with less open water (52–68%), and more floating vegetation (8–40%). Although habitat use mirrored coastal patterns, we estimated alligator densities to be 3–5 times lower than reported in coastal Texas, likely a result of inland habitat deviations from optimal coastal alligator habitat, particularly in the preponderance of open water and floating vegetation. Our findings that 1) inland habitats varied among sites and did not exactly match assumed optimal coastal habitats, 2) alligators used these inland habitats slightly differently than coastal areas, and 3) inland alligator densities were lower than coastal populations, all highlight the need for regionally specific management approaches. Because alligator populations are influenced by habitat quality and availability, any deviations from assumed optimal habitat may magnify harvest impacts upon inland populations.
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Vol. 73 • No. 4