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Integrating field surveys and remote sensing data to study distribution, habitat use and conservation status of the herpetofauna of the Comoro Islands

Author(s): Oliver Hawlitschek | Boris Brückmann | Johannes Berger | Katie Green | Frank Glaw

Journal: ZooKeys
ISSN 1313-2989

Volume: 144;
Start page: 21;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: amphibians | conservation planning | Landsat | protected areas | reptiles | satellite imagery | Western Indian Ocean

We studied the non-marine reptile and amphibian species of the volcanic Comoro archipelago in the Western Indian Ocean, a poorly known island herpetofauna comprising numerous microendemic species of potentially high extinction risk and widespread, non-endemic and often invasive taxa. According to our data, the Comoro islands are inhabited by two amphibian species and at least 28 species of reptiles although ongoing genetic studies and unconfirmed historical records suggest an even higher species diversity. 14 of the 28 currently recognized species of terrestrial reptiles (50%) and the two amphibians are endemic to a single island or to the Comoro archipelago. The majority of species are most abundant at low elevation. However, a few endemic species, like the gekkonid lizards Paroedura sanctijohannis and Phelsuma nigristriata, are more common in or even confined to higher altitudes. We created habitat maps from remotely sensed data in combination with detailed species distribution maps produced using comprehensive data from field surveys between 2000 and 2010, literature, and historical locality records based on specimens in zoological collections. Using these data, we assessed the conservation status of the endemic terrestrial reptiles and amphibians according to the IUCN Red List criteria. Our results show that although little area of natural forest remains on the Comoros, many species are abundant in degraded forest or plantations. Competition and predation by invasive species appears to be the most important threat factor for the endemic herpetofauna, together with habitat degradation and destruction, which further favours invasive species. We propose the status Endangered for three species, Vulnerable for one species, Near Threatened for six species, Least Concern for four and Data Deficient for two species. The endemic subspecies Oplurus cuvieri comorensis is proposed for the status Critically Endangered. Based on the results of this study, seven areas of importance for reptile and amphibian conservation on the Comoros are identified. This study shows how remote sensing data can contribute to increasing accuracy and objectiveness of conservation assessments.
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