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Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 150510677

Conservation of Endangered Turkish Vipers: Relevant Ecological and Genetic work to conserve vulnerable to critically endangered species

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 150510677) - Darevsky's Viper - Awarded $4,850 on June 20, 2015

Northeastern Turkey is a global diversity hotspot for vipers with at least 10 species occurring within the radius of 200 km from the city of Erzurum, thus rivalling the diversity of most tropical sites in this animal group. The diversity is paralleled by a great variety of habitats from subtropical bio zones along the Black Sea coast to alpine meadows and semi-arid steppes on the Central Anatolian plateau. Unfortunately, habitat degradations (dam constructions, intensive agriculture, plantations, overgrazing) have reduced the habitat quality for many vipers (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2013.1).

In this project, we try to identify range limits, contact zone among related species, relevant structural key factors and test for species integrity via morphological and genetic analysis. This multi-faceted approach will help to elucidate, which taxa deserve further conservation efforts. Consequently, we outlined a generous project, ranging geographically across Ardeşen-Hopa-Camili-Posof-Çildir-Tuzluca-Kağizman-Horasan-Uzundere-Çamlihenşin. In this area, we evaluate viper species and their habitat requirements, assess their taxonomic validity, and thus, will provide relevant tools for their conservation management. Expeditions in the seasons of 2013 and 2014 were dealing with all seven viper species, whereas the current subproject (Nr. 150510677) supported by the MbZ Species Conservation Fund for the season 2015 has focused on the two mountain viper species (genus Montivipera) and the highland dwarf vipers (Vipera darevskii and V. eriwanensis).

In the course of these field studies, we have substantially reduced the distances between closely related viper species by mostly more than 50%. In regards of the two Montivipera species, we have determined the area of likely contact, as we found a distance of 2 km between both species with habitat available for both in the intermittent zone. In subsequent seasons, the gene flow in the contact zones should be characterized in more details by molecular methods of sampled tissues to see whether individual exchange between viper species exists and may even lead to potential hybridization. Habitat selection data have been acquired and will be analyzed, once contact or proximate populations of related viper species have been sufficiently sampled.

In a few more seasons, we want to acquire sufficient data to provide ample means for concrete and effective conservation purposes and specific action plans, where needed, i.e. such as the range limits of threatened taxa, their population densities, a clarification which taxa do constitute clear independent species (and deserve preferred conservation attention), and which are their relevant environmental correlates. Overall, we have greatly enjoyed to work towards a better understanding of this neglected and disregarded group of animals - the vipers of northeastern Turkey.


our project related video clips (half serious):




our project related publications: 

1. Göçmen B., K. Mebert, N. İğci, B. Akman, M. Zülfü Yıldız, M.A. Oğuz, & Ç. Altın (2014): New locality records of four rare species of vipers (Ophidia: Viperidae) in Turkey. – Zoology in the Middle East 60(40): 306–313.  DOI:10.1080/09397140.2014.966518


2. Mebert K. (2014): IUCN-Red List of Threatended Species - should we overhaul the assessment of vipers from northeastern Turkey? – Abstract for round table on conservation of vipers, 4th Biology of the Vipers Conference, Athens, 10–13.


3. Mebert K., N. İğci, B. Göçmen & S. Ursenbacher (2014): Vipern der Nordost-Türkei: Genfluss und Umweltfaktoren zwischen den Taxa des Vipera barani-kaznakovi-darevskii-Komplexes. – TERRARIA/elaphe 49: 58–67.


4. Mebert K., B. Göçmen, N. İğci, MA. Oğuz, M. Kariş & S. Ursenbacher (2015). New records and search for contact zones among parapatric vipers in the genus Vipera (barani, kaznakovi, darevskii, eriwanensis), Montivipera (wagneri, raddei), and Macrovipera (lebetina) in northeastern Anatolia - Herpetological Bulletin 133: 13–22.


5. Göcmen Bayram, John Mulder, Mert Karış, Konrad Mebert (2015). New locality records of Vipera ammodytes transcaucasiana Boulenger, 1913 in Turkey. – South Western Journal of Horticulture, Biology and Environment 6(2): 91–98.


6. Göçmen Bayram, Konrad Mebert, Mert Karış (2015). New distributional data on Vipera (berus) barani from Western and Northeastern Anatolia – Herpetological Notes 8: 609–615.


7. Nalbantsoy Ayse, Nasit Igci, Bayram Göcmen, Konrad Mebert (2016) Cytotoxic Potential of Wagner's Viper, Montivipera wagneri, Venom – North-Western Journal of Zoology (in press).


8. Mebert Konrad, Bayram Göçmen, Mert Kariş, Naşit İğci, Sylvain Ursenbacher (2016). The Valley of Four Viper Species and a Highland of Dwarfs: Fieldwork on threatened vipers in northeastern Turkey –  IRCF Reptiles & Amphibians 23(1): 1-9 

Project document