First comprehensive inventory of Neotropical snakes

November 27, 2017, Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

An international team made up of scientists from Brazil, Australia, the U.S., Ecuador, Germany and Sweden has published the results of an extensive database of snakes of the American tropics. This database is made up of museum collections from the past 150 years and demonstrates that some Neotropical regions, such as the Cerrado in the central Brazil, contain a disproportionately high diversity. Furthermore, some other diverse regions are disproportionately under-sampled, such as the Amazon. For the first time, distribution patterns, collection records and frequency of occurrence are recorded from a total of 147,515 contributions to 886 snake species. Thus, the database covers 74 percent of all snake species from 27 countries. The database will serve as a solid basis for conservation concepts, and biodiversity and evolution models in the future. The study was recently published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

About 10,500 of reptiles (animals such as lizards and snakes) are found around the world and about 150 to 200 are also discovered every year. Snakes make up about 34 percent of this group of animals. "We assume that there are still many species that we still do not know. However, the identification of areas poorly-sampled, where probably new species can be found, must come from data and mapping of the known species," explains leading author Dr. Thaís Guedes from the University of Gothenburg.

The international group of scientists have collected data about snake collections of the Neotropics—South and Central America, the West Indies and the southern part of Mexico and Florida—to record the diversity of snake species, their distribution, as well as their threats. The result is a unique with 147,515 entries for 886 snake species from 12 families. Senior author of the study Alexandre Antonelli from the University of Gothenburg says, "We have published one of the largest and most detailed surveys on the distribution of snakes—one of the most species-rich reptile groups in the world. What an achievement."

The huge dataset is the result of a merger of a public database and the collection data of various international taxonomists. Another of the study's authors, Dr. Martin Jansen from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, says, "The review by taxonomic experts has greatly enhanced the data. One could say that the data bank now has a kind of quality mark, something like 'taxonomically verified." This is very important, as biodiversity models often lack this in-depth taxonomic expertise."

The results from this most comprehensive and novel database also highlight the necessity to better sample, explore, and protect areas of high diversity, as well as rare species. "Our database provides the ideal basis, and it can now be used by other scientists (without taxonomic expertise) as a solid basis for subsequent models, for example, on evolutionary patterns or climate change effects," explains Guedes.

Explore further: The barred grass snake is described as a separate species

More information: Thaís B. Guedes et al. Patterns, biases and prospects in the distribution and diversity of Neotropical snakes, Global Ecology and Biogeography (2017). DOI: 10.1111/geb.12679

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