Zombie Alligators & Biodiversity | Brigitte Viellieu-Davis

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Zombie Alligators & Biodiversity

Zombie Alligator in Florida Lake

Nature is such an elegant teacher. The lessons she offers require true presence to appreciate. After you’ve abused and neglected her, you can sometimes win her back, but it takes close attention being paid…mighty close attention.

Yesterday I was watching National Geographic Channel about Lake Griffin in Florida. This lake has always been a diverse ecosystem with a healthy alligator population. Healthy until developers came in. In a short time run-offs from fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and other dumping caused the lake to suffer, and a huge algae bloom killed almost all of the plant life in the lake. Miraculously the gators survived, and the lake was “saved” by some concerned officials, scientists and citizens.

But that’s not where the story ends. A while later, the alligators began to mysteriously falter and die. Pollution was the culprit, of course. No. The legacy of negligence is hard to trace sometimes. After years of research and hundreds of dead alligators, turns out they were dying from a neurological disorder. The episode on NGTV was actually entitled “Zombie Alligators.” They weren’t getting enough B1 (thiamine), which is essential for any body to function properly (especially the nervous system). It was coming from their diet. So scientists trapped and pumped the stomachs of hundreds of alligators for years (can you imagine?!) Turns out the bulk of their new diet (post algae bloom) was a fish called the gizzard shad. Like catfish and carp, the gizzard shad can flourish in conditions that are less than ideal for other species.  The gizzard shad adds thiaminase to the diet of its predators. Thiaminase a chemical which inhibits the absorption of thiamine. The lack of diversity in the gators new diet was killing them. So the lake was cleared of gizzard chad. Which I think is pretty remarkable (and the program didn’t mention how, which I would love to know). Subsequently the alligators began to flourish again.  It took almost 2 dozen scientists over many years to solve this and save the alligator population in Lake Griffin, which actually saved Lake Griffin for everyone.

So when I get asked, “what’s the benefit of having your yard designated a certified wildlife habit by the National Wildlife Federation?”  No, there are no tax breaks.  But creating biodiversity creates strong eco-systems.  Yard by yard.  I sometimes hear people say, “that creek/river/lake is fine.  I was down there yesterday and saw crawfish, ducks and mice…life, right?”  A strong eco-system not only supports the hardy predators and bottom dwellers, but also the more fragile and invisible creatures.  You’ve probably heard about the frogs and the bees — both in a fair amount of danger world-wide across diverse eco-systems.  Both act as sort of the planet’s “immune system.”  Frogs are these seemingly skinless creatures that live in our ooze.  Bees are intricately tied to our food supply and how we are growing, harvesting and producing food.  By paying close attention to your own garden and how you tend it, we can create more vibrant eco-systems garden by garden.

Go to www.nwf.org.  Check out how to transform your yard into a wildlife habitat.  It’s easy and it makes a huge impact.  http://www.nwf.org/In-Your-Backyard.aspx

3 responses to “Zombie Alligators & Biodiversity”

  1. brigitte says:


  2. Carmen says:

    Hello Brigitte! This is a great article, who knew gizzard shad could cause problems?

  3. Bviellieudavis says:

    Not so much the gizzard shad as the PEOPLE!

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