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Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 13257258

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 13257258) - Fadejew leech - Awarded $7,000 on January 27, 2014

 Twenty field trips were undertaken to evaluate the conservation status of Fadejew leech populations. Only three (15 %) localities were found to harbor the Fadejew leech. Western frontiers of the species range were outlined. Our findings suggest the decline of the range. The Fadejew leech was not found in localities in the basin of the river of Syrovatka (Sumy Province) where the species had been recorded in 2006. Also, the species was not found in suitable habitats of the Seim and Desna basins (Chernihiv Province) which has been considered to be within the range. The leeches occur in the Kharkiv Province in ephemeral waters of the basin of the Siverskyi Donets River.

All individuals studied belong to larger size classes suggesting a low reproductive rate of the population. Morphological diversity was low as most leeches are monotonous in their coloration patterns. The common pigmentation is dark brown and black while light brown individuals are rare. Population density is low: one individual per five to eight plants of Sparganium erectum.

Usually habitats of the Fadejew leech are small (less than 1 ha) standing, shallow, ephemeral natural waters with silty buttom and sloping shores, surrounded by herbaceous vegetation, with water temperature 18 – 27 ºC in summer and neutral or low-alkalinity pH values (8 – 8.5), moderate salinity (211 ppm) and moderate content of iron, phosphorus, sulphate and nitrate ions. Macrophytes form dense demersal tangles in the water bodies. The most important feature of the habitats is the presence of the plants Sparganium erectum and Sagittaria sagittifolia. The leeches prefer to stay at bases of their leaves. Waters lacking Sparganium erectum and Sagittaria sagittifolia never harbor the Fadejew leech.

The Fadejew leech does not occur in man-made dam ponds. Both drying-out of wetlands and turning ephemeral waters into permanent waters cannot be tolerated by the Fadejew leech. Toxic lead gunshot can be also harmful for populations of the species. Our efforts to collect snow resulted in a longer period of the “life” of ephemeral waters. This is a reliable measure to restore natural habitats of the Fadejew leech.

A public awareness campaign was conducted. Local people were informed and involved in the conservation actions during our field trips. We used information boards and personal contacts to explain the importance of the conservation of endangered invertebrates and their habitats. Then the wetland conservation contest was organized to involve school children of local communities in the conservation of habitats of the Fadejew leech. The participants prepared projects on the conservation status of their local small bodies of water: ponds, ephemeral pools and small rivers. They made public reports at a workshop held at the VN Karazin Kharkiv National University. The workshop committee selected three winners to give them special prizes, colorful books on wild life.

We organized a series of exhibitions at the Landau Center, VN Karazin Kharkiv National University. Visitors could see living invertebrate animals (including leeches and insects) and obtain information on their life styles and conservation statuses. The web site www.ualeech.org was made to inform on the progress of our project. It contains appropriate pictures and movies. Project participants gave interviews for local TV companies to tell about the conservation of rare invertebrate species. An illustrated booklet entitled Rare Species of Leeches, Mollusks and Crustaceans of Fresh Waters of the Kharkiv Province (in Ukrainian) were prepared, published and distributed. The booklet contains the information on systematic positions, conservation statuses, distinguishing features, geographical distributions, numbers, habitats, life styles, major threats and conservation actions for 21 invertebrate species.

A phylogenetic analysis of major genera of Eurpopean erpobdellid leeches were carried out to reveal their phylogenetic relationships and the place of Fadejewobdella quinqueannulata on the phylogenetic tree. Our phylogenetic analysis based on COI sequences revealed a weak phylogenetic structure in the Fadejew leech populations (Fadejewobdella quinqueannulata). All samples examined share only one haplotype. This suggests that F. qiunqueannulata experienced a bottleneck effect and lost a substantial part of its genetic diversity. Low genetic diversity is a serious treat for rare species. The Fadejew leech has diverged far from other erpobdellid taxa and can be viewed as a substantial component of the biodiversity of East European wetlands.

Project 13257258 location - Ukraine, Europe