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Spatial and temporal segregation allows coexistence in a hybrid zone among two Mediterranean vipers (Vipera aspis and V. latastei)

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Mediterranean vipers are ecologically very similar. When in contact, they constitute an exceptional model to study the effects of competitive interactions and niche segregation mechanisms. In High Ebro, distinct methodologies (random visual encounter, road sampling and radio-tracking surveys, captive maintenance, standardized transects and ad hoc field observations) were used to compare ecological traits (diet, micro-habitat, activity, reproductive and demographic) of V. aspis, V. latastei and hybrids among both species and determine competitive advantages of each form. Diet preferences were similar but few differences were found in feeding frequency and annual variation in diet consumption. Males of the three forms compete for areas with similar characteristics but differences were found mainly during summer. Significant differences in average movement rates and home range size were found among males. Fecundity and new-borns fitness were lower in V. aspis than in V. latastei, whereas hybrids had intermediate values. Male and female adult hybrids were more abundant than parental forms, whereas female and juvenile V. latastei and juvenile hybrids had high road-mortality. The three forms seem to be competing intensely for resources but the segregation on the spatial and temporal axes of their niches could be reducing interspecific competition and allowing coexistence. The use of different resources probably confers reproductive and demographic advantages for V. latastei and hybrids, respectively. Moreover, reproductive fitness of hybrids suggests the occurrence of endogenous selection. Comparative thermal and genetic studies are needed to clarify the limiting factors of vipers and to establish a model of the hybrid zone.

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Biología Animal, Parasitología, Ecología, Edafología y Química Agrícola, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Salamanca, Campus Miguel de Unamuno, 37007 Salamanca, Spain;, Email:; 2: Departamento de Biología Animal, Parasitología, Ecología, Edafología y Química Agrícola, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Salamanca, Campus Miguel de Unamuno, 37007 Salamanca, Spain; 3: Western Kentucky University, Biology Department, Bowling Green, KY 42101, USA, Centro de Biologia Ambiental, FCUL, Campo Grande C2, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal; 4: CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Campus Agrário de Vairão, R. Padre Armando Quintas, 4485-661 Vairão, Portugal


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