Romanian reptiles rule their ''hotspots''

By Dave Armstrong - 10 Oct 2013 11:8:4 GMT
Romanian reptiles rule their ''hotspots''

The Babadag forest is a Mediterranean oak forest, just warm enough to boast the spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca ibera, the large whip snake, snake-eyed skink, Balkan wall lizard and green lizard, horn-nosed viper and Aesculapian snake, as it lies to the south of Romania, between Constanta and the Danube delta. The pet trade of course has decimated tortoise species throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea; Spur-thighed Tortoise image; Credit: © Shutterstock

When they write the story of how the last lizards slithered and the snakes snuck away, Romania can say at least they tried! This year, we've been noticing just how rapidly reptiles have disappeared from our habitats. With chytrid fungal infections finishing off the amphibians, reptiles have been overlooked. The pet trade, habitat fragmentation and invasive alien species are just a few of the more obvious factors involved in this loss.

We also must configure the data on how climate change affects a cold-blooded creature. Species distribution is vital for maps, so that assessment can be efficiently carried out. As one of the largest countries in Eastern Europe, the regional forest, mountain and aquatic ecosystems of Romania present us the vital resources of high-value habitats. Conservation here has been successful, in some areas especially, with a diversity of reptilian fauna, 12 species reaching their geographical limits.

Dan Cogălniceanu and seven colleagues from the University Ovidius Constanţa and the University of Bucharest have worked to upgrade the 52-year-old national distribution maps and present an analysis of the spatial patterns in them. The rarity index will be of great importance, with a range from a widespread "0" to the ultimate "100" for extremely restricted. The javelin sand boa, Eryx jaculus came in as rarest with 96.7. The authors publish in Zoo Keys with the title "Diversity and distribution of reptiles in Romania".

The only subspecies studied were those of Vipera ursinii, the meadow viper, while slowworms were considered a single species. From 18,036 records, the paper now lists 7.5 reptiles per 100 square km with "hotspots" around mountains such as the famed Iron Gates Natural Park, up to heights of 2075m (2 species, the obvious suspects of the viviparous lizard and adder.) Tortoises, snakes the slowworm and lizards are included but lizard species looking likely to cross from Bulgaria in the near future were not found.

Unlike the amphibians, whose paper has also been published, the reptiles were easily spotted in some cases and more numerous in the same "hotspots." Tortoise and some other ranges in the south are thought to have been restricted recently with the abandonment of traditional agricultural practices. Hand mowing and orchard and vineyard size have a great influence it seems. Congratulations to the researchers for such an approachable format and a useful tool for conservation.