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Keyserling’s Wonder Gecko (Teratoscincus keyserlingii)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 172515524

An integrative approach to the conservation of the endangered Arabian populations of the gecko Teratoscincus keyserlingii

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 172515524) - Keyserling’s Wonder Gecko - Awarded $12,000 on June 07, 2017

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the only place in the Arabian Peninsula where Teratoscinsus keyserlinguii is present. A sight record by M. D. Gallagher of a juvenile specimen from near Doha, Qatar in 1973 (reported by Arnold, 1977) has never been confirmed and is therefore considered invalid (Gardner, 2013). Within the UAE, the populations have been severely affected by the rapid development and transformation suffered by the country in recent years (see example). These occur mainly in four fragmented areas of north-western UAE, between the coastal area south of Al Ail to near Abu Dhabi International Airport. Most records are within 30 Km from the coast but it has also been found further inland, west of Al Malaiha and around Al Dhaid (see distribution map). Outside Arabia, T. keyserlingii has been recorded from Iran, south-western Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Although the present project is centered in preserving the endangered populations from the UAE, it includes an assessment of the intraspecific genetic variability of T. keyserlingii across its range, contributing to a better knowledge of its systematics and evolution.

In the Arabian Peninsula Teratoscincus keyserlingii is listed as Endangered B1ab(iii) on the basis of its reduced extend of occurrence (less than 5000 km2) and because it occurs in highly localized and severely fragmented subpopulations with a continuing decline in the quality of its habitat due to increasing pressure from coastal development (Cox et al., 2012). Our unpublished preliminary data comparing historical records for the past 35 years with current records clearly show that this dangerous trend of habitat destruction and fragmentation has not ceased and, in fact, has worsened since the last assessment of the species carried out in 2012, resulting in the disappearance, reduction and fragmentation of even more populations. The primary habitat of T. keyserlingii is constituted by sand sheets, low undulating sand dunes and sandy plains with relatively good vegetation dominated by the grasses Pennisetum divisum and Panicum turgidum. These vegetated coastal sandy areas of the UAE are not only relevant for our primary target species but also for a large community of geckos as well as for many other animals both vertebrate and invertebrate (Gardner, 2013).

 

 Objectives

The main goal of this project is to obtain all the necessary distribution, ecological and molecular data for the correct conservation and management of the threatened Arabian populations of Teratoscincus keyserlingii.

The specific objectives of the project include.

1.-The first and main objective of the project will be to carry out a detailed survey of its distribution range in the UAE. Surveys will include visits to all historical records with the aim of recording any extinctions and to new areas to find new populations. The present objective will greatly benefit from all the previous fieldwork carried out by different people in the UAE for the past 35 years in order to produce an updated 2017 detailed distribution map of the species. Non-invasive tissue samples will be collected for genetic analyses.

2.-Distribution data will be used to build detailed ecological niche models to explain the current and potential geographic distribution of the UAE populations based on their ecological requirements.

3.- Using genetic tools including mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences and genome wide nuclear data (SNPs; single nuclear polymorphisms) obtained using Next Generation Sequencing techniques, we aim to clarify the phylogenetic relationships, origin and systematics of the Arabian populations of T. keyserlingii, to determine the phylogeographic patterns, genetic diversity and structure of the different populations from the UAE and the level of contact/isolation among them.

Once all the distribution, ecological and genetic data of the Arabian population of T. keyserlingii have been gathered and analyzed we will be in a very good position to delineate a national conservation action plan for the UAE. This plan could be implemented by all the relevant environmental agencies across the country to conserve this species as well as the fragile and threatened habitats it occupies.

 

References

Arnold, E.N. (1977) The scientific results of the Oman flora and fauna survey 1975. Little-known geckoes (Reptilia: Gekkonidae) from Arabia with descriptions of two new species from the Sultanate of Oman. Journal of Oman studies special report, 1, 81-110.


Cox, N.A., Mallon, D., Bowles, P., Els, J. & Tognelli, M.F. (2012) The Conservation Status ans Distribution of Reptiles of the Arabian Peninsula. Cambridge, UK and Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, and Sharjah, UAE: Environment and Protected Areas Authority.

 

Gardner AS. (2013). The amphibians and reptiles of Oman and the UAE. Chimaira: Frankfurt am Main.

 

 

Project document