Journal Article Upward Altitudinal Shifts in Habitat Suitability of Mountain Vipers since the Last Glacial Maximum

Yousefi, Masoud  ,  Ahmadi, Mohsen  ,  Nourani, Elham  ,  Behrooz, Roozbeh  ,  Rajabizadeh, Mehdi  ,  Geniez, Philippe  ,  Kaboli, Mohammad

10 ( 9 )  , p.e0138087 , 2015-09-14 , Public Library of Science
We determined the effects of past and future climate changes on the distribution of the Montivipera raddei species complex (MRC) that contains rare and endangered viper species limited to Iran, Turkey and Armenia. We also investigated the current distribution of MRC to locate unidentified isolated populations as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of the current network of protected areas for their conservation. Present distribution of MRC was modeled based on ecological variables and model performance was evaluated by field visits. Some individuals at the newly identified populations showed uncommon morphological characteristics. The distribution map of MRC derived through modeling was then compared with the distribution of protected areas in the region. We estimated the effectiveness of the current protected area network to be 10%, which would be sufficient for conserving this group of species, provided adequate management policies and practices are employed. We further modeled the distribution of MRC in the past (21,000 years ago) and under two scenarios in the future (to 2070). These models indicated that climatic changes probably have been responsible for an upward shift in suitable habitats of MRC since the Last Glacial Maximum, leading to isolation of allopatric populations. Distribution will probably become much more restricted in the future as a result of the current rate of global warming. We conclude that climate change most likely played a major role in determining the distribution pattern of MRC, restricting allopatric populations to mountaintops due to habitat alterations. This long-term isolation has facilitated unique local adaptations among MRC populations, which requires further investigation. The suitable habitat patches identified through modeling constitute optimized solutions for inclusion in the network of protected areas in the region.

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