Contaminated groundwater that contains harmful chemicals as the result of agricultural pesticides and human waste has long been known to negatively affect the environment. However the culminating physiological effects of these chemicals may trigger a cascade of changes within the Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator) population, ultimately causing an ecological shift that is contrary to the natural course of evolution. Chemicals called endocrine disruptors can affect bodily functions in a variety of ways. By altering the body’s hormonal balance on a chemical level, endocrine disruptors can result in morphological changes to hormone-dependent organs, which could in turn significantly disrupt the animal’s growth, resistance to disease, and ability to reproduce. In addition, hormones are largely responsible for reproductive behavior, especially the ability to display and/or recognize traits that are indicative of a potential mate’s genetic quality. These innate behaviors are essential to an individual’s ability to pass their genes on to the next generation, which cumulatively decides the course of evolution for the entire population. The drastic effects of pollution that are represented in Lake Apopka cannot be reversed, only studied and monitored for future knowledge. These studies hope to help posterity understand the devastating effects that the actions of a single individual could have on an entire ecosystem, so that future pollution may be prevented.
Endocrine disruptors can come into the environment from a variety of sources. They are known to be present in many widely used compounds such as pesticides and birth control pills, which can contaminate groundwater and leak into freshwater aquatic systems (Arcand-Hoy and Benson, 1998). An extreme example of such contamination is that of Lake Apopka in Florida. In 1980, a chemical spill in the area nearly decimated the American Alligator population of Lake Apopka and resulted in a multitude of negative effects years afterword from which the population has not yet fully recovered (Arcand-Hoy and Benson, 1998). This is primarily blamed on the long-term effects of endocrine disruptors that were introduced into the system. Either by mimicking natural hormones and binding to hormone receptors, or by blocking the binding of natural hormones to hormone receptors, endocrine disruptors are able to alter how natural hormones are produced and used (Oberdorster and Cheek, 2011). Because hormones are responsible for maintaining many bodily functions, changing hormonal concentrations will disturb the body’s natural balance and produce abnormal morphological changes to hormone-dependent organs (Arcand-Hoy and Benson, 1998).
Morphological Effects on Body Size
For example, thyroid hormones are necessary for proper development of the central nervous system and skeletal systems. Therefore, changes in thyroid levels would produce morphological changes...