Species distribution modelling leads to the discovery of new populations of one of the least known European snakes, Vipera ursinii graeca, in Albania

in Amphibia-Reptilia
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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.

Species distribution modelling leads to the discovery of new populations of one of the least known European snakes, Vipera ursinii graeca, in Albania

in Amphibia-Reptilia



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    Geographic area and presence points of Vipera ursinii graeca used in species distribution modelling. Grey shading indicates the area for model training, black outline indicates projection area. The distribution of V. u. macrops is also presented due to its proximity to the study taxon.

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    The prediction of MaxEnt model for Vipera ursinii graeca throughout the range and in southern Albania (inset). Field surveys were conducted on all mountains shown. Filled acronyms indicate mountains where the subspecies was found, open letters indicate those where no evidence of presence was found. Abbreviations: Bureto (BU), Çika (CI), Dhëmbel (DH), Griba (GR), Kulmak (KU), Llofiz (LL), Lunxhërisë (LU), Nemerçkë (NE), Shendelli (SH), Tomorr (TO), Trebeshinë (TR).

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    Median-joining haplotype network of Vipera ursinii graeca based on mitochondrial ND4 sequences. Numbers 222 and 384 indicate the relative positions of single nucleotide substitutions. See table 2.


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