August 16, 2010
The Framingham State University community was abuzz this summer with the arrival on campus of 70 juvenile alligators who now reside in the laboratory of FSU biologist Dr. Steve Dinkelacker.
Dr. Dinkelacker’s research will seek to understand mechanisms used by American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) to cope with ranges of environmental temperatures. During winter, alligators cope not only with reduced thermoregulatory opportunities, but also with potential submergence under ice cover. If ice cover does occur, adult alligators have been reported to maintain air holes in the ice or to remain in burrows dug into the sides of banks. However, scientists currently do not know if these burrows have air spaces or if alligators remain submerged in water. Dr. Dinkelacker’s research will seek to illuminate the diving physiology of alligators and possibly identify causes of alligator mortality in natural settings. Aquatic turtles such as painted and snapping turtles rely on sequestration of lactate within the shell and a highly efficient blood buffering system to survive prolonged submergence. Research with the FSU alligators will determine if these same systems are present or work efficiently in the osteoderms of crocodilians.
The 70 juvenile alligators were donated to Framingham State University by Dr. Ruth Elsey (Rockefeller National Wildlife Refuge, Grand Chenier, Louisiana). At FSU, the alligators are kept in three custom cages centered around 150 gallon stock tanks filled halfway with water. Dr. Dinkelacker will simulate fall conditions by slowly decreasing air and water temperatures from September through December in a pattern that closely resembles the average monthly reductions in North Carolina and Arkansas. In February, temperatures will be subsequently increased to simulate spring conditions. Biology students will assist in this research by collecting several types of tissue samples to determine the presence or absence of metabolites and metabolic enzymes in specific organs. In addition, Dr. Dinkelacker plans to test the tolerances and physiological adaptations that alligators utilize when submerged.
About Framingham State University
As Massachusetts' premier state university, Framingham State University offers prepared and motivated students a wide range of challenging undergraduate and graduate programs. Located just 20 miles from Boston, the college offers many options for students to engage in real- world learning both on its quintessential New England campus and in Boston and its thriving MetroWest region.