Meadow viper, Vipera ursinii, in Italy: aspects of conservation ecology (Reptilia, Viperidae)
Italian Journal of Zoology Modena 71: 167-172(Suppl 1)
The Meadow viper, Vipera ursinii (Bonaparte, 1835) is the most threatened Italian snake species. The apparent frequency of observations and local distribution were investigated at a few central Apennine massifs. The most abundant populations appeared to be those inhabiting the Gran Sasso massif, particularly the Campo Imperatore valley. On the other hand, the most vulnerable populations appeared to be those inhabiting the Duchessa Mountains and the Majella Massif. The viper populations are affected by negative factors which may have a longitudinal effect (i.e. that may affect the viper populations during the whole cycle of annual activity) or a punctual effect (i.e. that may affect the viper populations during some specific phases of the annual activity cycle). Mean body sizes were similar in all areas, but the few specimens captured on Vettore Massif were significantly smaller than those captured in all other areas. This is probably due simply to the small sample size, rather than to true size differences at the population level. Micro-habitats of capture differed significantly among the various study areas: most specimens were found in or around bushes of Juniperus nana on both the Duchessa and Gran Sasso massifs, but the great majority of specimens were found in or around Pinus mugo on the Majella massif. It is suggested that the main threats are: (1) overgrazing (longitudinal effect, mainly in the Duchessa Mountains); (2) damage produced by wild boar Sus scrofa (longitudinal effect, mainly in the Duchessa Mountains); (3) intentional killing by excursionists (punctual effect); (4) over-forestation by P. mugo (on the Majella Massif).