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Ecological and evolutionary significance of colour polymorphism in reptile species with contrasting life histories (EECOREP)

Project code: PN-III-P1-1.1-TE-2021-1452

Contract no: TE 115/ 2022

Funding agency: Romanian Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Funding (UEFISCDI): https://uefiscdi.gov.ro

Grant duration May 12, 2022 – May 11, 2024.

Grant total budget: 450.000 LEI.

Project Leader: Dr. Alexandru STRUGARIU, Senior Researcher III

Research team members:

  • Dr. Tiberiu-Constantin SAHLEAN, Senior Researcher III
  • Dr. Iulian GHERGHEL, Scientific Researcher
  • Petronel SPASENI, PhD student

Host department and institution: Department of Natural and Exact Sciences, Institute of Interdisciplinary Research, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iași, Romania: http://www.ici.uaic.ro

Project summary:

Animal colouration is the result of adaptations to biotic and abiotic factors, playing important roles in predator avoidance, inter- and intra-specific communication, sexual selection, or thermoregulation. Melanism based colour polymorphism has been observed in a large number of taxa and in the majority of the regions of the world, in squamate reptiles. The ecological advantages and disadvantages of being a darker coloured reptile have benefited from intense studies in the past decades, especially since it has been shown that darker snakes are superior in thermoregulation to lighter ones. However, recent studies have indicated that correlates of melanism do not always provide support for the thermal melanism hypothesis. Most previous studies on this topic have limited implications as they were unidirectional and based on a limited geographic sampling. Thus, the core objective of the present project is to utilize an integrated approach to explore the ecological and evolutionary significance of colour polymorphism in reptile species with contrasting life history traits, using the oviparous grass snake (Natrix natrix) and viviparous adder (Vipera berus) as study systems. Our approach will comprise performing a meta-analysis and conducting a series of direct field surveys, field and laboratory experiments. Our project would be the first one to ever ecologically compare colour polymorphism in viviparous vs. oviparous reptiles and monomorphic vs. polymorphic populations.

Objectives:

The core objective of the present project is to explore the ecological and evolutionary
significance of colour polymorphism in reptile species with contrasting life histories, using the
oviparous grass snake (Natrix natrix) and the viviparous adder (Vipera berus) as study systems. We
aim to investigate:

(i) Whether colour polymorphism in reptile species with contrasting life histories (oviparous vs.
viviparous) are explained by the same ecological and evolutionary mechanisms.
(ii) The ecological and evolutionary advantages and disadvantages in each colour morph, related
to sex and age.
(iii) The potential association of polymorphic populations to use broader ecological niches.

Results (updated December 6th, 2022)*:

A. Presentations at international scientific conferences :

A.1. Spaseni P., Zamfirescu Ș.R., Fusu L., Sahlean T.C., Gherghel I., Dincă P.C., Zamfirescu O., Strugariu A. : ‘So close, no matter how far’: A remarkable new record extends the distribution, but not the genetic diversity of the Moldavian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii moldavica). The 21st European Congress of Herpetology, Belgrade, Serbia, 5-9 September, 2022. (oral presentation)

A.2. Sahlean T., Papeș M., Strugariu A., Gherghel I.: The right of passage: Nature corridors for the amphibians and reptiles in Romania. The 21st European Congress of Herpetology, Belgrade, Serbia, 5-9 September, 2022. (oral presentation)

A.3. Strugariu A., Martin R.A.: Factor in fear? Disentangling the roles of exploitative versus interference competition in disruptive selection. The 21st European Congress of Herpetology, Belgrade, Serbia, 5-9 September, 2022. (oral presentation)

A.4. Strugariu A., Spaseni P., Sahlean T.C., Gherghel I., Zamfirescu Ș.R. : Do differential activity patterns help maintain colour polymorphism in vipers from warmer environments? The 21st European Congress of Herpetology, Belgrade, Serbia, 5-9 September, 2022. (poster)

B. Publications in peer-reviwed journals:

B.1. Vörös, J., Ursenbacher, S., Jelić, D., Tomović, L., Crnobrnja-Isailović, J., Ajtić, R., Sterijovski, B., Zinenko, O., Ghira, I., Strugariu, A., Zamfirescu, S., Nagy, Z., Péchy, T., Krízsik, V., Márton, O., & Halpern, B. (2022). Well-known species, unexpected results: high genetic diversity in declining Vipera ursinii in central, eastern and southeastern Europe, Amphibia-Reptilia (published online ahead of print 2022). doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/15685381-bja10116

*Authors in bold are team members of the current project.

Executive summary of the first stage (2022) results: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wfJX_5Y0FeobRT6_hDlbQG4nEKUFwix1/view?usp=sharing

Media coverage: