SEH grants 2023

Marilena Stamatiou & Savvas Zotos

Terrestrial Ecosytem Management Lab, Open University of Cyprus

Monitoring the population of the endemic Cyprus grass snake at Paralimni lake

The Cyprus grass snake (Natrix natrix cypriaca) is an endemic subspecies of Cyprus, highly protected, by EU legislation (Habitat Directive 92/43/EC) and Cyprus law (153[I]2003), as a “priority species”, although currently not listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Two main populations have been identified on the island, the Troodos population, living in mountainous stream habitats with permanent or seasonal water flow, and the lowland Paralimni population. The second is highly localised in the vicinity of the Paralimni lake, facing numerous pressures due to the highly fragmented, urbanised, and disturbed environment. The absence of crucial information on the distribution, population size, structure, and trend of the species hampers the implementation of any targeted conservation action.

This project, through the financial support of the SEH Conservation Grant in Herpetology for 2023, aims to implement the first structured monitor scheme for the Paralimni population in more than fifteen years, hoping to collect a significant amount of initial data on the population’s structure and dynamics, as well as supplementary notes on the quality of the habitat, and dangers they might face. It is our hope that this project will spark more interest on this wonderful and rare subspecies of the island, while kickstarting further future research.

Ilaria Bernabò

Department of Biology, Ecology and Earth Science, University of Calabria

Allochthonous fishes and endemic newts: a road map for a conservation strategy

For amphibians and particularly newt species, the fish introduction is considered a determinant factor in population decline and extinction through numerous adverse effects. There is substantial concern over the survival of the Calabrian Alpine newt, Ichthyosaura alpestris inexpectata, due to the recent fish introduction in three of the lakes in its core range (the Special Areas of Conservation “Laghi di Fagnano”), originally devoid of fish fauna. This endemic taxon is a glacial relict and is currently known, with small populations, in five occurrence localities in the Catena Costiera (Calabria, Southern Italy), where I. a. inexpectata is syntopic with Triturus carnifex and Lissotriton italicus. The Calabrian Alpine newt was recently confirmed as “Endangered” on the Italian IUCN Red List. In 2022, a pilot study updated the distribution of this endemic newt and identified two new breeding ponds near the Laghi di Fagnano. Population monitoring and information on the abundance, demography and ecological requirements of this endemic subspecies are still scarce.

The drive for this project is due to the strong evidence that the fish presence and habitat may threaten the persistence of the Calabrian Alpine newt and other newts, which are of conservation, biogeographical and community interest. Consequently, the main goal of the proposal is to provide information on the status of I. a. inexpectata, T. carnifex and L. italicus, living in the SAC Laghi di Fagnano and the neighbouring new sites, as a prerequisite for planning proper and urgent conservation measures. 

The proposal envisages a plan of monitoring four sites characterised by different hydroperiods and the presence/absence of introduced fish: three historical ponds in the SAC Laghi di Fagnano and one of the two new breeding sites. I plan to survey the sites with a standardised sampling protocol (i.e., aquatic funnel traps and capture-mark-recapture methods) that will allow estimating demographic parameters and status and trends of I. a. inexpectata and other newts. In addition, I propose the first Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans screening of the four Calabrian Alpine newt populations.

The expected results could be an essential starting point towards an Action Plan for protecting I. a. inexpectata and designing an ecological restoration through actions for fish eradication and habitat quality improvement.