by Gabriel Martínez del Mármol Marin (email@example.com), Baudilio Rebollo Fernández (firstname.lastname@example.org) & Tomas Mazuch (email@example.com)
Genus Echis Merrem, 1820, is one of the most complex genera of snakes in Africa. Recent genetic analysis has shown that the genetic variability among Echis leucogaster and Echis pyramidum group is very low and some authors suggest the existence of a single species with several subspecies (Arnold et al., 2009).
Echis leucogaster or Echis pyramidum leucogaster is probably the rarest snake in Morocco (Aymerich et al., 2004). In 1996 in Morocco the only known populations were Aouinet Torkoz (now called Aouinet Lahna) and Ait-Semgane-n-el-Grara (originally attributed to Echis carinatus by Sochurek but later classified as Dasypeltis scabra by Stemmler, 1971)(Bons & Geniez, 1996).
Over the years both populations have been confirmed: in Aouinet Lahna the population is relatively abundant (Aymerich et al., 2004; K. Lazghem, pers. comm.; G. Martinez del Marmol Marín, pers. obs.) and it has also been found in nearby regions such as Tiglit (F. Cuzin in Herrmann et al., 2000). South of Ouarzazate the number of citations has also increased with up to 6 specimens found in 2009 in the area between Ait Semgane-n- el-Grara and Tasla (Escoriza et al., 2009; Aymerich, 2010) and other nearby points such as Amazer (J. Maran & Maran in Geniez, 1999) and Allougoum (Pook et al., 2009).
As the populations are more than 300 Km apart there was a question that there could be intermediate populations between both nucleuses, especially as there are many sites potentially favourable for the species (Brito et al., 2011).
During a herpetological trip to Morocco on April 30, 2012, some of the authors found a juvenile of this species (Martinez del Marmol & Rebollo Fernandez, 2012) on the outskirts of the town of Tata.
The importance of this record is that it shows that the distribution of Echis leucogaster in Morocco is not limited to two isolated nuclei. This report shows that Echis leucogaster has a much wider distribution than that previously thought and confirms the possibility of a continuous population.
Prior to this sighting, some of the authors had prospected around Assa, Foum el Hisn and Akka but without success. These and other places as Tisgui-El-Haratine, Icht, Tissint or Foum Zguid are locations where this species could possibly occur as they contain similar characteristics.
In the last genetic analysis the E. pyramidum haplotypes are in turn subdivided into western (Mauritania, Senegal, Morocco, western Mali) and eastern (Tunisia, Niger, eastern Mali) clades (Pook et al., 2009). Those two groups are in the beginning of the diversification and at this moment and knowledge they don’t deserve any taxonomic unit (e.g. subspecies). The Echis vipers found in Biskra, Algeria (Jiri Hales-Tomas Mazuch, pers. comm.), should belong to Echis leucogaster species, as the specimens from both sides (Morocco, Tunisia) of this locality according to DNA (Pook et al., 2009), coloration (dorsal patterns, white venters) and morphology analysis (D 29, V165, Scd 36, thus certainly not from the complex ocellatus).
If we would speculate to which populations belong (eastern vs. western) Biskra specimens may belong to the eastern clade, because this population is closer and without any geographical barrier. Whereas the E. pyramidum and “E. leucogaster” meeting area is in somewhere in Libya (and probably further south in the Chad and western Sudan; T. Mazuch, unpublished), the possibility of a contact area between both E. pyramidum clades is uncertain due to the scarcity of Algerian and Moroccan records. Maybe there are some populations between Ait Semgane and Biskra (Tazzarine, Figuig, Beni Ounif, Brezina or Laghouat are good examples where “Echis leucogaster” could occur). Although a morphology analysis shows that an animal from Biskra (Natural History Museum, London: BMNH 1907.4.6.55) has a distinctive hemipenis and may represent yet another taxon (Arnold et al., 2009), there are no other reasons (geographically or phylogenetically) to recognize this population as another taxon.
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