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Biogeography of the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca): origin and conservation of the northernmost population

Galarza, Juan A., Mappes, Johanna, Valkonen, Janne K.
Biological journal of the Linnean Society 2015 v.114 no.2 pp. 426-435
biogeography, demography, endangered species, habitats, microsatellite repeats, population size, snakes, Balkans, Scandinavia, Sweden
Understanding historical range expansions and population demography can be crucial for the conservation and management of endangered species. In doing so, valuable information can be obtained regarding, for example, the identification of isolated populations, associations to particular habitats and distribution range shifts. As poikilotherms, snakes are vulnerable to environmental changes that can greatly shape their distribution ranges. Here we used mitochondrial data to elucidate the origin of the smooth snake population in Åland island, which is the northernmost location where the species is found. In Åland, we used mitochondrial and microsatellite data to fine‐map its spatial genetic structure, infer its demographic dynamics and determine its effective population size. We found three independent lineages, which expanded north from Iberian, the Balkans and Caucasus regions. The central lineage originating in the Balkans was the only one that reached Scandinavia. The Åland population belongs to this lineage and potentially colonized the island from the west via Sweden. This population appeared to be critically small and fragmented into two genetically isolated subpopulations. We discuss our results in light of previous findings regarding colonization routes in Europe and Scandinavia. Moreover, we discuss the origin and current genetic status of the Åland population relative to other co‐occurring snakes and suggest conservation measures based on our findings.