Snake communities of moist rainforest and derived savanna sites of Nigeria: biodiversity patterns and conservation priorities

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The taxonomic composition and the abundance of two communities of snakes were studied in two different areas of southern Nigeria. One community was studied in a derived savanna area (environs of Ejule, 06°54′N, 07°23′E), and one community was studied in a moist rainforest area (environs of Eket, 04°50′N, 07°59′E). Both the specific diversity and the mean frequency of observation of snakes were significantly higher in the forest area than in the savanna area, and the dominance index was higher in the savanna than in the forest site. However, most of the species were found in only one of the two areas, depending on their habitat requirements (e.g. Gastropyxis smaragdina, Dispholidus typus, Thelotornis kirtlandii, Dendroaspis jamesoni, Bitis nasicornis, Causus maculatus, etc). The forest community housed a significant number of arboreal and semiaquatic taxa, but in both sites most of the species were terrestrial. The commonest species in the forest area was an oviparous, semiaquatic, batracophagous natricine snake (Afronatrix anoscopus), whereas the commonest species in the savanna area was an oviparous terrestrial lacertophagous psammophine snake (Psammophis phillipsi). Some conservation implications of our biodiversity analyses are presented. It is suggested that the moist rainforest represents a critically endangered habitat, and should deserve special attention by the international scientific community. Oil industry activity is especially dangerous for snake communities, especially in the southernmost regions of Nigeria.

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