Herps without borders: a new newt case and a review of transalpine alien introductions in western Europe

in Amphibia-Reptilia
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Biogeographic processes have led to different evolutionary taxa occurring in the northern and southern edges of the Alpine Mountains in Western Europe. The integrity of this diversity is being challenged by frequent human-mediated trans-alpine translocations, sometimes leading to biological invasions. Several alien terrestrial vertebrates of south Alpine origins (Italy, Swiss Ticino) are causing damages to native north Alpine fauna. In this paper, we used molecular tools to characterize the understudied case of the Mediterranean smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris meridionalis) expanding in the outskirts of Geneva since its introduction before 1975. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequencing suggest that these exotic populations are a mixture between two diverged L. v. meridionalis lineages from central Italy, and traces of potential hybridization with the native L. v. vulgaris was detected. This situation echoes many other trans-alpine alien introductions. We review all comparable cases of southern to northern Alps introductions in vertebrates, including seven reptiles and four amphibians. The majority of south alpine alien lineages were presumably imported voluntarily by enthusiasts and appear to perform better in the disturbed habitats found in the anthropogenic landscapes of Western Europe compared to their native north Alpine counterparts. Most pose serious threats to related species of similar ecology, through direct competition, predation and introgressive hybridization. Difficulties to detect alien species on time lead to significant conservation costs. Better education together with more appropriate and reactive management plans will be necessary to limit the impact of future alien introductions.

Herps without borders: a new newt case and a review of transalpine alien introductions in western Europe

in Amphibia-Reptilia



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    (A) Mitochondrial phylogeny of Lissotriton vulgaris spp, (B) distribution of lineages and (C) distribution of the three haplotypes found in the canton of Geneva. Colors correspond to the clades of L. v. meridionalis identified by Maura et al. (2014). Samples from this study (black frames) include the Geneva area (GE, haplotypes M1b, M8a and M8), Ticino (TI, haplotype M6a) and the Grande Cariçaie from Western Switzerland (GC, haplotypes GC1 and GC2). For (C), letters correspond to the specimen sampled, and the cross indicate the presumed point of origin of the invasion in Geneva. For (C), Latitude (N) and Longitude (E) are indicated in decimal degrees.

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    Nuclear phylogeny of Ncx1 for Lissotriton and other newts. Haplotypes found in Geneva (GE) are MER01 (L. v. meridionalis also sequenced in Ticino, TI) and VUL02 (related to L. v. vulgaris haplotype VUL01 sequenced from Western Switzerland in the Grande Cariçaie nature reserve, GC).

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    Confirmed cases of transalpine alien introductions in terrestrial vertebrates, and their conservation impact.


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