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The effect of burrow availability on the occupancy and density of the endangered Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis)
Bancsik Barnabás - year 2
University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, Department of Ecology
Supervisors: Zoltán Korsós, Edvárd Mizsei

Abstract:

The Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) is a unique taxon living in the Pannonian Basin. Previous conservation interventions had no detectable effects on the abundance of the species, possibly due to the still-degraded suboptimal habitats and intensified predator pressure. The habitat selection of vipers is determined by several factors, such as vegetation structure, prey availability, or predator pressure. An overlooked but possibly important environmental source is burrow availability. These burrows are originally created by field crickets, ground squirrels, voles, and mice and later are utilised by snakes as shelter and hibernaculum. As burrow availability and diversity can be limiting factors in population growth, we examined the effects of these on the occupancy and abundance of the Hungarian meadow viper in the Kiskunság region (Hungary) using temporally and spatially replicated counts of vipers and burrow densities sampled across four sampling seasons in 2020-2021 (spring and autumn). We used multi-seasonal occupancy and n-mixture models in a Bayesian framework, where the environmental (operative) temperature was the explanatory variable for detection, while burrow densities (within three types) and diversity index of burrows were included as explanatory variables for the state (latent occupancy/abundance). The results of both models showed a positive effect of burrow diversity on viper occupancy and abundance, while burrow densities had no effect. The results suggest that there is no limitation in suitable burrows at the study sites, however, further studies should assess the influence of individual burrow occupancy by their original inhabitants, while future conservation research and efforts should focus on other parameters and potential threatening factors which could affect viper populations.



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