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(Vedmederja, Orlov & Tuniyev, 1986)],.00.08 - - 2012 , ...

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3. Aghasyan A.L., Aghasyan L.A., Kaloyan G.. Study of the present status of amphibian and reptile populations for updating the Red Data Book of Armenia and the IUCN Red List // In: Status and protection of globally threatened species in the Caucasus. Tbilisi. CEPF/WWF. 2009, p. 125-131.

4. .., .. . . , 2010, 36 . ( . ).

5. Ettling J., Aghasyan L.A., Aghasyan A.L. Spatial ecology and population structure of Armenian viper, Montivipera raddei in Armenia // Proceedings of the International Conference Biological diversity and conservation problems of the fauna of the Caucasus. Yerevan. 2011, p. 346-350.

6. .. (Pelias darevskii Vedmederja, Orlov et Tuniyev, 1986) // , , 2011, . 14-18.

[(Pelias darevskii (Vedmederja, Orlov & Tuniyev, [Pelias darevskii (Vedmederja, Orlov & Tuniyev, 1986] (CR B2ab (ii, iii):

V. eriwanensis (= P.eriwanensis)- V. kaznakowi (= P.

4 (Pelias darevskii, Pelias eriwanensis, Montivipera raddei, Makrovipera lebetina) ` 20-24 , ` 20-24 :

` (Microtus arvalis, M. nivalis):

(2,65 )` 70-120 : 2011-2015.,

AGHASYAN LEVON

DISTRIBUTION, ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION OF THE DAREVSKY'S

VIPER [(Pelias darevskii (Vedmederja, Orlov & Tuniyev, 1986)]

SUMMARY

The Darevsky's viper [Pelias darevskii (Vedmederja, Orlov & Tuniyev, 1986)] is among the least studied Palearctic snakes. No comprehensive research of this species was ever conducted. Vipers were not recorded outside of the type territory (vicinity of the Ghazanchi village, Ashotsk district) prior to the investigations described in this work. Rarity and strictly limited distribution area have made this snake included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the Red Data Book of Armenia as a Critically Endangered taxon of very limited range [CR B2ab (ii, iii)].

Research on distribution (range), habitat use, morphology and ecology of the Darevsky's viper, as well as the development of species conservation programmes are urgent and important for a long period of time.

The main goal of this dissertation was to study viper habitats, carry out their detailed mapping, estimate sizes and densities of local micropopulations and to investigate these snakes by traditional methods and radio-tracking in order to unveil their ecological properties, assess population trends, clarify zoogeographical status, identify and delineate habitats for their incorporation to Lake Arpi National Park's reserve zone, as well as to develop and apply targeted conservation actions.

Observations were made in natural and captive conditions, in total of individuals which were subsequently released back into the wild. The specimens kept in different museum collections were also investigated.

In Armenia, the range of the Darevsky's viper is spread only in the Shirak Province, on the western slopes of the Javakhk Ridge. Its total length is 15 km and its size is about 9200 ha. Eight isolated sub-populations were found and described.

Research conducted in 2004-2011 has produced original information on distribution, habitat use, population size and density, seasonal and daily activity patterns, movements and migrations, and previously unknown ecological data. The zoogeographical status of the Darevsky's viper was assessed and a number of focused conservation projects were conducted so that to minimise conflicts with local communities.

Based on its morphological structure, the Darevsky's viper occupies an intermediate taxonomic position between V. eriwanensis (= P.eriwanensis) and V. kaznakowi (= P. kaznakovi) and is possibly of hybrid origin. A detailed description of viper morphology, colouration and differences from other species is provided.

The suitable habitats of the Darevsky's viper are subalpine screes, mountain moraines and sloping rock lands at 2300-2800 m above sea level, with a depth of rocky layers no less than 0.5-2 m which ensures the survival of vipers at such high elevations.

Thermoregulation of the Darevsky's viper has its adaptive features related to behaviour and ecology (feeding, reproduction, activity etc.) in highland conditions. The activity period lasts from late April and May to late September. A comparative analysis of the ranges of the four vipers living in Armenia (Pelias darevskii, Pelias eriwanensis, Montivipera raddei, Macrovipera lebetina) has shown that July temperature of ground surface has been the principal determinant of viper distribution. The species-specific isotherms are 14-16 for the Darevsky's viper, 18-21 for the Armenian steppe viper and 20-24 for the Armenian viper and the blunt-nosed viper.

The size of each sub-population does not exceed 250-300 individuals and the total abundance is no more than 2400 individuals at best. The main prey items for adult Darevsky's vipers are Darevskia lizards and, sometimes, rodents (Microtus arvalis, M. nivalis). Mating begins in early to mid-May and lasts until the first ten days of June. The offspring (maximum 9 newborns, body mass 2.5-3.75 g) are born from the last ten days of August to the last ten days of September.

Viper movements and migrations depend on habitat sizes. Vipers move 400-500 m away in relatively larger habitats (23.65 ha) and pass shorter distances in smaller habitats (70-120 m in a 2.65 ha area). Darevsky's vipers are less mobile than other viperids. No viper movements between the eight subpopulations were recorded for the lack of shelters in these areas.

The Darevsky's viper is the first reptilian species which served as a flagship for the establishment of a protected area. Our research materials formed the basis for the development of the conservation package which was submitted to Ministry of Nature Protection of Armenia for implementation of the Lake Arpi National Park establishment project.

The results were used to update the IUCN database and to produce species accounts in the Red Data Book of Armenia. Viper habitats were excluded from human use and incorporated to Lake Arpi National Park's reserve zone.

The materials describing ecology and conservation of the Darevsky's viper were included in the park's 2011-2015 management plan which was approved by the government of the Republic of Armenia.



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