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Ovidius University Annals of Natural Sciences, Biology Ecology Series

Volume 14, 2010

THE PRESENT SITUATION OF THE NOSE HORNED VIPER POPULATIONS (Vipera ammodytes montandoni) Boulenger 1904 FROM DOBRUDJA (ROMANIA and BULGARIA)
Marian TUDOR * * Universitatea Ovidius Constana, Facultatea de tiine ale Naturii i tiine Agricole B-dul Mamaia, nr. 124, Constana, 900527, Romnia, e-mail __________________________________________________________________________________________ Abstract: Due to the destruction and deterioration of the specific habitats and the increased fragmentation of the remaining ones, the nose horned viper has lost large tracts of vital living space. In addition, road kills, direct kills and collecting by humans contribute to their decline. I tried to estimate the present situation of the nose horned viper populations in Dobrudja, based on literature and our own field data. The main goals were: to investigate the present situation of the nose horned populations in Dobrudja; to identify the most suitable habitats for Vipera ammodytes montandoni; and to locate the viable populations of this viper and current threats to the nose horned viper populations. Keywords: Dobrudja, Nose-Horned Viper, viable populations __________________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Introduction Starting with 1995, thirty-eight locations mentioned in literature ([3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9]) in the Romanian area of Dobrudja have been explored with the purpose of verifying the preservation state of the nose horned viper populations. Eight more locations have been explored for the same reason in the Bulgarian region of Dobrudja in 2008. The researches took place especially in spring and autumn, when the vipers are more active and more easily recognizable in the specific habitats [10], [11], [12], [13], [14]. The explorations used visual transects as well as the method of active search in the specific habitats. [11], [15]. The capture and handling of the vipers was accomplished with the help of the herpetological hook and tongs ([16], [17]). Leather gloves were used in the case of small individuals. After identification and sex determination, each individual was released in the same place where it was captured from. Also, the roads that bordered or intersected the explored habitats were repeatedly examined, and all the road kills were photographed and collected. The searches led many times to the discovery of individuals whose

The study of the nose horned viper in general, and of the Dobrudja subspecies in particular, can offer both herpetologists and conservationist biologists important data due to the relatively strict habitat requirements of this herpeto-taxon (particular habitat conditions, the necessary presence of certain prey-species in the habitat etc), as well as to its vulnerability to the modifications of the specific habitats. From this point of view, it is one of the ideal species for monitoring in the protected areas, as well as in those territories to be designated protected areas in the future. The subspecies is considered critically endangered (CR) in the Vertebrates Red List of Romania [1] and it is included in annex 3A of OM 1198/2005 (Species of European interest in need of strict protection, critically endangered species). The populations of Vipera ammodytes montandoni are in a continuous decline [2] due to anthropogenic causes and their need for preservation is all the more imperative as the destruction of the specific habitats has increased considerably over the last few years. 2. Material and Methods

ISSN-1453-1267

2010 Ovidius University Press

The present situation of the nose horned viper population from Dobrudja/ Ovidius University Annals, Biology-Ecology Series 14: 113-118 (2010)

death was a result of the direct interaction with humans. In such cases, the vipers had usually been hit to death with stones or other hard objects. No instances of natural death were identified among the dead individuals. All the inventoried individuals in each researched habitat were quantified and the determination of the viability degree of the populations was attempted by means of calculating the identified adult/juveniles proportion [18]. The calculation of the viability degree also took into account the state of the habitats and particularly the level of human intervention, starting from the premise that a natural or semi-natural habitat offers much better conditions for the survival of a nose horned viper population than an anthropogenic one.

3.

Results and Discussions

The study has rendered evident certain aspects that complete the data regarding the state of the nose horned viper populations in Dobrudja. Thus, if before our researches, it was considered that Vipera ammodytes montandoni has a relatively large distribution in Dobrudja [7], [19], [9], our data rather bring arguments in favor of the idea that this subspecies currently occupies small habitats in more or less strictly delineated areas. This aspect supports the idea that the exchanges of individuals among populations are very poor or lack completely. This may lead in time to the reduction of the intrapopulation genetic diversity. Also, most of the habitats of nose horned viper populations in Dobrudja are intersected or bordered by roads. Thus, it was observed that, out of a total of thirty-eight locations situated in the Romanian part of Dobrudja where populations of nose horned viper had previously been mentioned [7], only in twentyfive of them (65.8%) the presence of this herpetotaxon could be rendered evident. Numerous monasteries and hermitages have been built over the past ten years and their presence already generates a rise in the number of direct kills in some locations where there were populations of

nose horned viper such as Babadag Forest, Gura Dobrogei, Dumbraveni, Hagieni and the foot of Pricopanului Peak. The existence of this Dobrudja subspecies could no longer be evidenced in the other thirteen locations previously mentioned as habitats for nose horned viper populations. The study has evidenced the fact that in Dobrudja (both the Romanian and the Bulgarian side), the largest populations of Vipera ammodytes montandoni are situated in Dumbraveni Natural Reserve, Babadag Forest, Priopcea Hill, Macin Mountains National Park, Gura Dobrogei Natural Reserve, the ruins of Adamclisi fortress, Canaraua Fetii Natural Reserve, Rusalka, Kaliakra, Bolata Dr, Yaillata and Kamen Bryag. Of the total inventoried individuals in the researched areas, 14% were represented by animals whose death was a result of the anthropogenic impact. Among these, 67% are represented by vipers killed deliberately, most having a crushed skull, and 33% are road kills, especially in spring when these reptiles prefer to bask directly on road asphalt (figure 1).
33%

road kills direct kills

67%

Fig. 1. The raport Road kill/Direct kill The estimation of population viability in Dumbraveni Natural Reserve, Babadag Forest, Priopcea Hill, Macin Mountains National Park, Gura Dobrogei Natural Reserve, the ruins of Adamclisi fortress, Canaraua Fetii Natural Reserve, Rusalka, Kaliakra, Bolata Dr, Yaillata and Kamen Bryag evidenced the fact that the number of juveniles compared to that of adults is relatively high in these areas, which could thus indicate a high viability of these populations. As a whole, the situation is graphically illustrated in figure 2.

Marian Tudor/ Ovidius University Annals - Biology-Ecology Series 14: 113-118 (2010)

Rusalka Yailata Kamen Bryag Kaliacra Bolata Dr Canaraua Fetii Hagieni Adamclisi Dumbrveni Babadag Gura Dobrogei Mcin Priopcea Niculiel Trguor Cerna Albesti ipotele Casimcea Atmagea Betepe Cataloi Juveniles Adults

0.00%

2.00%

4.00%

6.00%

8.00%

10.00%

12.00%

Fig. 2. The percentage of adults and juveniles in the analyzed populations hours spent in the Romanian Dobrudja is approximately equal (generally over 100 hours) in each location, the number of hours spent in the locations of the Bulgarian Dobrudja is much lower (an average of 10-12 hours per location). This is why it is very likely that the number of individuals in the identified populations could be much higher in the Bulgarian locations. Considering the time spent in each location, the relative preservation of the habitats, as well the effort of capturing the animals, all these bring arguments in favor of this hypothesis.

In what regards the abundance of individuals in the researched populations, it was observed that in locations such as Gura Dobrogei, Babadag, Dumbraveni, Adamclisi, Hagieni, Canaraua Fetii and Bolata Dr, the number of identified individuals is higher (figure 3). Still, this aspect only leads to the conclusion that these populations might be larger than the ones identified and investigated. Also, this aspect must be correlated with the number of field hours spent in each location. If the number of field

The present situation of the nose horned viper population from Dobrudja/ Ovidius University Annals, Biology-Ecology Series 14: 113-118 (2010)
Canaraua Fetii Hagieni Adamclisi Dumbr veni Babadag Gura Dobrogei M cin Yailata Bolata Dr Kaliakra Priopcea Rusalka Kamen Bryag Niculi el Trguor Cerna Albesti ipotele Casimcea Atmagea Be tepe Cataloi 0.00% 2.00% 4.00% 6.00% 8.00% 10.00% 12.00% 14.00% 16.00%

Figure 3. The abundance of Nose-Horned Viper in the analyzed populations Otherwise, in what regards these populations in the Bulgarian side of Dobrudja, the data collected over the 2008 research season evidence a relatively good preservation of the nose horned viper in the natural and semi-natural habitats. No road kills or direct kills were discovered in these areas, probably due to the fact that these habitats are located at a considerable distance from roads and spaces dedicated to activities with anthropogenic impact. Still, given that the data collected here were gathered over a period of only a few months, it is possible that direct kills could occur sporadically due to tourism or animal grazing [20]. At the same time, we estimate that the new buildings, as well as the sale of lands that shelter vipers to investors, will lead to the destruction of their specific habitats in Bulgaria too. In both countries, the expansion of constructions and road improvement with the purpose of easing transport but also of facilitating the access of mass tourism to wild areas, will lead to the enhancement of the anthropogenic impact in areas where it either did not exist or it was sporadic.

The present situation of the nose horned viper population from Dobrudja/ Ovidius University Annals, Biology-Ecology Series 14: 113-118 (2010)

4.

Conclusions

The main conclusion of the study is that Dobrudja, as biogeographical area well circumscribed and with particular characteristics compared to the other parts of Europe situated at the same latitude, still hosts viable populations of the montandoni horned viper subspecies; The most serious danger for the preservation of this subspecies of horned viper is represented by the destruction of habitats. Immediately after come the road kills and direct kills; The populations of Vipera ammodytes montandoni in Dobrudja are isolated one from the other, therefore we believe that there are few exchanges of individuals among them or that these exchanges lack completely in some cases, leading thus to the reduction of the intra-population genetic diversity; Our data argument for the existence of at least 12 areas that shelter viable populations of nose horned vipers in Dobrodja. These areas are: Dumbraveni Natural Reserve, Babadag Forest, Priopcea Hill, Macin Mountains National Park, Gura Dobrogei Natural Reserve, the ruins of Adamclisi fortress, Canaraua Fetii Natural Reserve, Rusalka, Kaliakra, Bolata Dr, Yaillata and Kamen Bryag. Future studies will focus on the estimation of intra-population genetic diversity and on the dynamics of certain populations of this subspecies in order to propose the best measures intended for the preservation of the Dobrudja nose horned viper.

5.

References

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Marian Tudor/ Ovidius University Annals - Biology-Ecology Series 14: 113-118 (2010)

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Dr. Olivia Chirobocea for the revising of the text and accurate English translation.

Acknowledgements This study was partly possible thanks to the UNDP/GEF Atlas Project no. 047111 The strengthening of the national system of protected areas in Romania through the best management practices in the Macin Mountains National Park. The researches in the Bulgarian area of Dobrudja were possible thanks to the PHARE CBC 2005 Romania-Bulgaria Program RO 2005/017535.01.02.02 Comparative studies regarding the biodiversity of coastal habitats, the anthropogenic impact and the possibilities for the conservation of important European habitats between Cape Midia (Romania) and Cape Kaliakra (Bulgaria). We are indebted to: Dr. Dan Coglniceanu and Dr. Marius Skolka for providing references, valuable advice and logistics. Dr. Zsolt Trk and Dr. Paul Szekely for support and references.