Vipera ursinii graeca is a restricted-range, endemic snake of the Pindos mountain range in the southwestern Balkans. The subspecies was previously reported from eight localities in Greece and one locality in southern Albania. We used species distribution modelling based on climate data from known localities in Greece to estimate the potential distribution of the subspecies. The model predicted suitable areas for eleven mountains in southern Albania, which we visited in ten field expeditions in four years. Based on 78 live individuals and 33 shed skins, we validated the presence of the snake on eight of the eleven mountains. Six populations (Dhëmbel, Llofiz, Griba, Shendelli, Tomorr and Trebeshinë Mountains) are reported here for the first time. Morphological characters undoubtedly supported that all individuals found at these new localities belong to V. u. graeca. Genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences also confirmed the identity of the snakes as V. u. graeca and a low number of identified haplotypes suggested low genetic variability among populations despite significant spatial isolation. All localities were subalpine-alpine calcareous meadows above 1600 m. These high montane habitats are separated by deep valleys and are threatened by overgrazing, soil erosion, and a potential increase in the elevation of the tree line due to climate change. Our surveys increased the number of known populations by 60% and the known geographical range of the subspecies by approximately 30%. Our study serves as a baseline for further ecological research and for conservation measures for one of the least known European viperid snakes.
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Genetic consequences of Pleistocene range shifts: contrast between the Arctic, the Alps and the east African mountains.
Phylogeography of the Vipera ursinii complex (Viperidae): mitochondrial markers reveal an east-west disjunction in the Palaearctic region.
When cold is better: climate-driven elevation shifts yield complex patterns of diversification and demography in an alpine specialist (American pika, Ochotona princeps).
KotenkoT.Morozov-LeonovS.Y.MezhzherinS.V. (1999): Biochemical genetic differentiation of the steppe viper (Vipera ursinii group) in Ukraine and Romania. In: 10th Ordinary General Meeting of the Societas Europaea Herpetologica p. 88-90. Natural History Museum of Crete Irakleio.
Prescribed fire and conservation of a threatened mountain grassland specialist: a capture-recapture study on the Orsini’s viper in the French Alps.
A re-evaluation of the taxonomic status of the Moldavian steppe viper based on immunological investigations, with a discussion of the hypothesis of secondary intergradation between Vipera ursinii rakosiensis and Vipera (ursinii) renardi.