Lesson 1. How does our research on past and modern habitats help us understand why alligators no longer live in Gray TN?

So far, you have studied modern alligators to determine what types of habitat needs they have, and you have recreated the paleohabitat for Pliocene-aged Gray, TN. Below, you can learn about the habitat in Gray, TN today. Once you've read through that section, you'll be ready to compare the three different habitats and determine if there are any clues that might tell us why alligators no longer live in Gray, TN. 

Modern Gray, TN Habitat

Today, the Gray Fossil Site is located at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains in a region of valleys and ridges. The climate is temperate, with warm summers and cool winters. Looking out from the site, we see farms and pastures, with an elementary school up the road. But these landscape changes only happened very recently in geologic time (the last few hundred years). Before that, the landscape would have been covered with relatively open deciduous forests that included trees like oak, hickory, and elm in abundance. Ancestors of Cherokee and Muskogeon communities built their villages nearby, hunting and fishing in nearby forests and rivers. The forests themselves would have been populated with very familiar animals like whitetail deer, black bears, and red slider turtles.

Habitat Comparison

Now that we've investigated alligator habitats today and in the past, and learned more about what a past alligator habitat looks like today, we can compare the three habitats to look for simarities and differences that might help us understand why alligators lived in Gray TN millions of years ago but not today. An easy way to visualize and identify these simarities and differences is to use a Venn Diagram. If your class is using a Jam board for this module, you can create your one there. Or, you can download and use the worksheet below. 

While you're completing your diagram, think about the alligator's primary habitat needs, such as food and shelter, as well as general characteristics of the three habitats you've investigated. Put the shared characteristics in the central, overlapping part of the diagram, and place any differences you noticed in the part of the circle that is unique to that habitat. Some characteristics may be shared by only two of the three habitats, and some by all three.  

What simarilities did you find for all three habitats? Were there any characteristics unique to a single habitat? How do these comparisons help you answer our primary research question?