Amphibian populations are especially sensitive to aquatic parameters, in particular during embryonic and larval life. Our aim was to test for an effect of temperature (T = 13°C, 20°C and 25°C at constant pH = 7) and pH (pH = 5.5, 7 and 8.5 at constant T= 20°C) on embryos of two species of Triturus, T. carnifex carnifex and T. italicus (Amphibia, Salamandridae) using GLM procedure. Trend of embryogenesis processes, time to hatching and rate of development have a similar effect in both species in the used range of temperature and pH. Time to hatching decreased significantly with the increasing temperature. The pH experimental conditions had no effect on T. carnifex embryos survival, while the acidic pH condition raised the mortality rate in T. italicus, whose embryos should be more vulnerable than those of T. carnifex to acidification in nature.
Flight initiation distance in relation to substratum type, sex, reproductive status and tail condition was studied in two lacertid lizards with contrasting habits: the ground-dwelling common lizard Zootoca vivipara and the rupicolous Horvath's rock lizard Iberolacerta horvathi. These species were studied in sympatric populations in a mountain area in North-Eastern Italy, Tarvisio Forest. Mean escape distance was significantly higher in I. horvathi than in Z. vivipara. In both species there were significant differences between sexes, with males escaping at longer distances than females but there were no significant differences between adults and subadults. In both species there were no differences in escape distance of females in different reproductive states. In Z. vivipara specimens with broken tails escaped at a shorter distance than individuals with intact tails. Substratum type had a significant effect on escape distance in both species.
Attributes of basking sites are important elements to study in management plans of threatened freshwater turtles. Here, we analyzed the basking-site characteristics of European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) populations in a Mediterranean territory of central Italy (Tolfa Mountains, Latium). We used logistic regression and Principal Components Analysis to characterize 29 presence sites versus 61 random sites, through 16 descriptive variables recorded within a 5 m radius from the sighting/target spot. Our analyses revealed that some variables (i.e. water turbidity, presence of small coves, submerged vegetation, and emergent tree-trunks) were those that influenced most strongly the presence of turtles on potential basking sites. Maintenance of deadwood in water and preservation of submerged aquatic vegetation should be included in the management planning for this turtle species in central Italy.
Many studies have provided evidence that prey adjust their behaviour to adaptively balance the fitness effects of reproduction and predation risk. Nocturnal terrestrial animals should deal with a range of environmental conditions during the reproductive season at the breeding sites, including a variable amount of natural ambient light. High degrees of illumination are expected to minimize those behaviours that might increase the animal detection by predators. Therefore, under habitat variable brightness conditions and in different ecosystems, the above mentioned behaviours are expected to depend on the variation in predation risk. Although moon effects on amphibian biology have been recognized, the direction of this influence is rather controversial with evidences of both increased and depressed activity under full moon. We tested in four nocturnal amphibian species (Hyla intermedia, Rana dalmatina, Rana italica, Salamandrina perspicillata) the effects of different (i) light conditions and (ii) habitats (open land vs. dense forest) on the reproductive phenology. Our results showed that the effects of the lunar cycle on the study species are associated with the change in luminosity, and there is no evidence of an endogenous rhythm controlled by biological clocks. The habitat type conditioned the amphibian reproductive strategy in relation to moon phases. Open habitat breeders (e.g., ponds with no canopy cover) strongly avoided conditions with high brightness, whereas forest habitat breeders were apparently unaffected by the different moon phases. Indeed, for all the studied species no effects of the moon phase itself on the considered metrics were found. Rather, the considered amphibian species seem to be conditioned mainly by moonlight irrespective of the moon phase. The two anurans spawning in open habitat apparently adjust their oviposition timing by balancing the fitness effects of the risk to be detected by predators and the reproduction.
Many techniques for predicting species potential distribution were recently developed. Despite the international interest for these procedures, applications of predictive approaches to the study of Italian fauna distribution are exceptionally rare. This paper aimed at: (a) detecting climatic exigencies of A. bedriagae in Sardinia; (b) predicting the Archaeolacerta bedriagae Sardinian potential distribution; (c) identifying the most vulnerable Italian populations of the species. Literature and field data were utilized as presence records. Six modelling procedures (BIOCLIM, DOMAIN, ENFA, GAM, GLM, and MAXENT) were adopted. The species climatic requirements were defined using the WorldClim databank for deriving the environmental predictors. AUC and Kappa values were calculated for models validation. AUC values were compared by using Anova Monte Carlo. The best four models were combined through the weighted average consensus method for producing a univocal output. GAM and MAXENT had the best performances (respectively: AUC = 0.93 ± 0.03, Kappa = 0.77 ± 0.08; AUC = 0.93 ± 0.03, Kappa = 0.78 ± 0.07). Good results were also obtained by GLM and DOMAIN (respectively: AUC = 0.89 ± 0.04, Kappa = 0.72 ± 0.05; AUC = 0.88 ± 0.04, Kappa = 0.69 ± 0.07). BIOCLIM and ENFA gained relatively low performances (respectively: AUC = 0.78 ± 0.07, Kappa = 0.57 ± 0.14; AUC = 0.75 ± 0.06; Kappa = 0.49 ± 0.10). In Sardinia A. bedriagae is mainly influenced by seasonality, which causes the evidenced range fragmentation. Moreover, the general importance of multi-methods approaches and consensus techniques in predicting species distribution was highlighted.
The inter-habitat and inter-seasonal variations in the taxonomic diet composition of the African fire skink, Lygosoma fernandi, one of the largest Scincidae of the Afrotropical regions, were studied by analysis of excrements collected from live individuals that were captured in some areas of the Niger Delta region, southern Nigeria. 22 prey types, mostly arthropods, were found in the diet of this species, with significant differences in prey composition between seasons. Isopoda and Coleoptera dominated in the dietary samples, with very few prey types exclusive of one habitat type and/or season (e.g. Formicidae in dry forest in both seasons and lizards in swamp forest in wet season). Overall, no difference between forest types and seasons was found as for diversity and evenness indices except for that prey diversity was higher in feces collected in the dry forest in dry season, whereas dominance and evenness did not show any significant variation across forest types.
We tested the ability in the ruin lizard (Podarcis siculus) to discriminate between odour of a predator (the whip snake Hierophis viridiflavus) and those from harmless sources. We analysed two lizard populations: one (PP) predated by snakes and another (PNP) where no snakes occur. We tested the rate of tongue flick directed to cotton-tips impregnated with odours, and the rate of tongue flick, the time spent in immobility, escaping and exploring the terrarium containing a diffuse odour. We used the smell of the snake as dangerous stimulus, water as blank control, and cologne as complex control. Both populations did not discriminate snake cue from complex odour in both the experiments. PP individuals were more active and prone to analysing and exploring the stimuli and the environment than PNP lizards. In PP, the higher interest towards cologne and snake scents could be triggered just by their complexity that requires more tongue flicks to be ‘analysed’, with no apparent adaptive anti-predatory value. Overall, we observed a total responsiveness and activity pattern higher in the PP respect to PNP.
We reported a study on breeding birds occurring inside an 80 m-deep karst sinkhole, with the characterization of the assemblages recorded along its semi-vertical slopes from the upper edge until the bottom. The internal sides of the sinkhole have been vertically subdivided in four belts about 20 m high. The highest belt (at the upper edge of the cenote) showed the highest values in mean number of bird detections, mean and normalized species richness, and Shannon diversity index. The averaged values of number of detections and species richness significantly differ among belts. Species turnover (Cody’s β-diversity) was maximum between the highest belts. Whittaker plots showed a marked difference among assemblages shaping from broken-stick model to geometric series, and explicited a spatial progressive stress with a disruption in evenness towards the deepest belts. Bird assemblages evidenced a nested subset structure with deeper belts containing successive subsets of the species occurring in the upper belts. We hypothesize that, at least during the daytime in breeding season, the observed non-random distribution of species along the vertical stratification is likely due to (i) the progressive simplification both of the floristic composition and vegetation structure, and (ii) the paucity of sunlight as resources from the upper edge to the inner side of the cenote.
Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) and related technologies have revolutionized the field of conservation and population genetics, providing novel tools and the capacity to discover thousands of new Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) for the analysis of population parameters. However, gathering NGS data for organisms with very large genomes, such as amphibians, remains challenging because it is still unclear how the current methods perform. Here, we use the Genotyping-by-Sequencing (GBS) approach to generate SNP data for the genotyping of two amphibian species that are of conservation concern, the Sardinian brook salamander (Euproctus platycephalus) and the Italian stream frog (Rana italica). Both E. platycephalus and R. italica have very large genomes (5.53 Gb and >20 Gb, respectively) so genomic data are not available for either of them. We used 95 individual samples and one Illumina lane for each species, with an additional lane for E. platycephalus. After filtering, we obtained 961 and 854 high-coverage SNPs for E. platycephalus and R. italica, respectively. Our results suggest that GBS can serve as a reliable and cost-effective method for genotyping large amphibian genomes, including non-model species.