2,274Grants to


Lataste's viper (Vipera latastei)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 13057632

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 13057632) - Lataste's viper - Awarded $5,000 on February 28, 2014

Mediterranean habitats have been deeply modified by human population and presumably will be seriously affected by climate change (IPCC, 2007; Cuttelod et al., 2008). The North Africa region comprises several species of vipers but only two of them are adapted to Mediterranean humid and temperate habitats: (1) the Lataste´s viper, Vipera latastei Boscá 1878, which is distributed in the Mediterranean areas of the Iberian Peninsula and in northern Maghreb (from Morocco to Tunisia), where it occurs in isolated populations (Bons and Geniez, 1996; Schleich et al., 2006; Brito et al., 2011a), and it is considered Vulnerable (VU) in the IUCN red list and probably in significant decline because of widespread habitat loss and persecution throughout much of its range (Mateo et al., 2009); (2) the Atlas Dwarf viper, Vipera monticola (Saint-Girons, 1954), which is endemic to Morocco, restricted to a few mountain valleys (between 1,200 to 4,000 m asl.) of the High Atlas Mountains (Bons and Geniez, 1996; Schleich et al., 2006) and it is considered Near Threatened (NT) because of reduced extent of occurrence (much greater than 20,000 km2), and the extent and quality of its habitat are probably declining, thus making the species close to qualifying for Vulnerable (Mateo et al., 2006).

Knowledge about north-African viper species is still very limited. Regarding species genetic relationships, a recent study using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers have outlined the genetic structure of the V. latastei-monticola species complex (Velo-Antón et al., 2012), recognizing the invalidity of V. monticola as it was recognized by morphological variability (e.g. Brito et al., 2008a). Remarkably, the study of Velo-Antón et al. (2012) found disjunctive relationships within High Atlas populations of V. monticola: western populations (i.e. Toubkal massif) are more related to Algerian populations of V. latastei, whereas eastern populations (i.e. Jbel Azourki) are more related to Rif and Middle Atlas populations of V. latastei. However, low sample size available for North Africa precluded the identification of genetic relationships for many populations (Fig. 1), highlighting the necessity of further studies with more samples for the designation of coherent systematic and conservation units (Velo-Antón et al., 2012).

Recent studies on species biogeographical patterns and conservation have enlighten the high vulnerability to human induced habitat loss, including direct habitat transformations and climate mediated changes (Brito et al., 2011a,b). These studies reviewed localities and developed ecological niche models, reporting areas where the species are likely to be extinct, to be present but endangered, or to be potentially present but still unconfirmed (Brito et al., 2011a,b). For instance, due to habitat loss (mainly urbanization and extensive agriculture) probable local extinctions have occurred for the Lataste’s viper in the Salé beach, Moulouya mouth and Tangiers peninsula in Morocco (Brito et al., 2011a). Endangered populations have been reported because of cannabis culture in the Rif Mountains in Morocco (Brito et al., 2011a) or by pine forests in northwestern Tunisia, where the Lataste’s viper has not been recorded since the 1950s (Brito et al., 2008b). Probable areas of occurrence have been reported for Morocco in the Jbel Bou Naceur for Lataste’s viper (Brito et al., 2011a,b) or in the Anti-Atlas Mountains for the Atlas Dwarf viper (Brito et al., 2011b), but field work is needed to confirm viper presence in these areas.

Apart from the human induced changes, the Mediterranean habitats occupied by the target species have been recognized as highly threatened by climate change (IPCC, 2007). Prognosticated increase of temperature and decrease of precipitation for this region should induce severe range reductions for Mediterranean habitats and increase of arid regions. As the target species are ectotherms, they are highly dependent of climatic conditions, thus range reductions, extinction of lowland populations and increase of population isolation should be expected for these species (e.g. Brito et al., 2011a; Martínez-Freiría et al., 2013).

The identification of ecological requirements and genetic structure of species are key factors for elaborating coherent conservation strategies. The target species of this proposal present unresolved genetic relationships hampering the identification of Evolutionary Significant Units (ESU), which may be adapted to different environmental conditions and are likely to exhibit different abilities to cope climate change (Botkin et al., 2007; Carvalho et al., 2010; Chown et al., 2010). Moreover, accurate distribution data for supposed extinct and unconfirmed Moroccan populations, and habitat characterization are urgently needed for estimating populations’ status due to current human mediated factors.



With this proposal we aim to (1) recognize ESU within these viper species by collecting tissue samples from Moroccan populations, and (2) update the conservation status of these viper species by obtaining precise distribution data and characterizing habitat features for supposed extinct and unconfirmed Moroccan populations.

Collected and currently available tissue samples will be used for obtaining mitochondrial and nuclear gene fragment sequences which will be the base for phylogenetic analyses aimed to infer genetic relationships among populations and identify ESU.

New distribution data will be integrated with current information for these species and assigned to the different ESU identified with phylogenetic analyses. Accurate ecological niche models and projections to prognosticated future conditions will be developed base on these data. This technique will be used for predicting responses and estimating vulnerability of species populations to climate change.

The present study proposes to achieve four main objectives in order to increase the current knowledge about conservation of the target species:


  • 1.      Updating distribution of both species, obtaining presence data and habitat descriptors for unconfirmed populations, as well as tissue samples for new populations (those without available tissue samples).Accurate localization of possible extinct or already viable populations and possible new areas where the target species are likely to be present will be used as guide for sampling.
  • 2.     Inferring the genetic structure for the two species and recognize ESU by sequencing mitochondrial and nuclear gene fragments from available and new (obtained in previous aim) tissue samples.
  • 3.     Developing accurate ecological niche-based models for the target species and/or ESU and projecting them for prognosticated future scenarios of climate change. Models will be developed by contrasting presence data with high resolution environmental factor variability (including topographic, climatic and land-cover variables) using multi-modeling algorithm platforms.
  • 4.     Evaluate and update current conservation status of the target species by integrating the results obtained in the previous aims.



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Brito JC, Santos X, Pleguezuelos JM, Sillero N (2008a). Inferring evolutionary scenarios with geostatistics and geographical information systems for the viperid snakes Vipera latastei and Vipera monticola. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 95, 790-806.

Brito JC, Feriche M, Herrera T, Kaliontzopoulou A, Martínez-Freiría F, Nesbitt D, Omolo D, Ontiveros D, Quiñoz L, Pleguezuelos JM, Santos X, Sillero N (2008a). En los límites de su distribución: anfibios y reptiles paleárticos en el noroeste de Túnez. Boletín de la Asociación Herpetológica Española 19, 1-8.

Brito JC, Fahd S, Martínez-Freiría F, Tarroso P, Larbes S, Pleguezuelos JM, Santos X (2011a). Climate change and peripheral populations: predictions for a relict Mediterranean viper. Acta Herpetologica 6, 105-118.

Brito JC, Fahd S, Geniez P, Martínez-Freiría F, Pleguezuelos JM, Trape J-F (2011b). Biogeography and conservation of viperids from North-West Africa: an application of Ecological Niche-Based Models and GIS. Journal of Arid Environments 75, 1029-1037.

Carvalho SB, Brito JC, Crespo EJ, Possingham HP (2010). From climate change predictions to actions - conserving vulnerable animal groups in hotspots at a regional scale. Global Change Biology 16, 3257-3270.

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Martínez-Freiría F, Argaz H, Fahd S, Brito JC (2013). Climate change is predicted to negatively influence Moroccan endemic reptile richness. Implications for conservation in protected areas. Naturwissenschaften 100, 877–889.

Mateo JA, Joger U, Pleguezuelos JM, Slimani T, El Mouden H (2006). Vipera monticola. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. . Downloaded on 10 January 2012.

Mateo JA, Cheylan M, Saïd Nouira M, Joger U, Sá-Sousa P, Pérez-Mellado V, Martínez-Solano I (2009). Vipera latastei. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. . Downloaded on 10 January 2012.

Schleich HH, Kästle W, Kabisch K (1996). Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein. 

Velo-Antón G, Godinho R, Harris J, Santos X, Martínez-Freiría F, Fahd S, Larbes S, Pleguezuelos JM, Brito JC (2012). Deep evolutionary lineages in a Western Mediterranean snake (Vipera latastei/monticola group) and high genetic structuring in Southern Iberian populations. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 65: 965–973.

Project 13057632 location - Morocco, Africa