Serpents' tales: assessing invasion risk of introduced snakes in the Balearic Islands

Relying primarily on GBIF-mediated data, researchers use the native distribution of four snakes recently introduced to the Balearic Islands in order to estimate current and future habitat suitability and understand the invasion risk they present.   

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus). Photo 2014 CC BY-NC devastazyon.

Although the long chequered history of human interaction with the Balearic Islands has presented nearly innumerable opportunities for biological invasion, this paper focuses on four recently introduced snake species: the horseshoe whip snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis), the Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), the false smooth snake (Macroprotodon mauritanicus) and the ladder snake (Rhinechis scalaris).

The authors analysed mitochondrial DNA from tissue samples to understand the snakes’ origins and invasive pathways. Then, relying primarily on GBIF-mediated data to understand the native distribution of each species, they estimated their current and future habitat suitability in this Mediterranean archipelago. These combined molecular and ecological analyses suggest that the nursery trade in olive trees may be a likely and single source of each invasion, and that climate change might improve conditions for these already widespread alien species. 

Silva-Rocha I, Salvi D, Sillero N, Mateo JA & Carretero MA (2015) Snakes on the Balearic islands: an invasion tale with implications for native biodiversity conservation. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0121026. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121026