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British reptile conservation: phylogeography and translocation studies

Jones, Rhys 2009. British reptile conservation: phylogeography and translocation studies. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.

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This thesis reviews the availability and suitability of non-invasive samples for examining genetic diversity of reptiles. Such samples were used to examine the phylogeography of British snakes, namely Natrix natrix, Vipera berus and Coronella austriaca. In addition, Anguis fragilis was used as a model reptile to assess the impact of land development and consequent habitat loss on present day reptile populations. For the first time, we demonstrate that snake faecal, egg and foetal tissues, as well as sloughed skin and carcasses, are valuable sources of non-invasively sampled (NIS) material permitting genetic studies with minimal disturbance to the individual and its population. Using mitochondrial cytochrome b primers, 500 and 758 bp length sequences were successfully amplified from a variety of NIS tissues. Furthermore, a new method was developed for obtaining snake faeces in the field. Non-invasively collected samples supplied sufficient quality DNA to reconstruct cyt b mtDNA phylogenetic histories for V. berus (434 bp), C. austriaca (141 bp) and N. natrix (265 bp). Median spanning networks, Bayesian inference and Neighbour joining analyses grouped all three British snake species within Italian lineages. V. berus showed greater genetic variability (5 haplotypes) than the other two monophyletic British snake species. It is likely that V. berus survived in British Younger Dryas refugia whilst both C. austriaca and N. natrix retreated to more southerly European refugia. Using the common slow worm, Anguis fragilis, as a model species, the impact of land development on present day reptile populations was calculated by accessing the success of established translocation protocols. During monitoring, we achieved a slow worm recapture rate of 24% with all animals maintaining or increasing body condition in the first year following translocation. We recommend a minimum of 5 year post-translocation monitoring of receptor site with preferably four receptor site visits per year. This number of visits is a compromise between ideal recapture rate and mitigation costs. The effect of parasitic load on translocated slow worm populations was investigated though the first British record and field study of Neoxysomatium brevicaudatum (83% prevalence, n=100). Increased parasite load negatively affected slow worm body condition with parasitic loads varying amongst host populations. We discuss the value of post-translocation monitoring and disease surveillance as an important conservation tool in preserving threatened reptile species.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Biosciences
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
ISBN: 9781303215117
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2019 13:05

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