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What am I working on?

1. Population genetics of the smooth snake, Coronella austriaca, in Alsace, France; 2009-2010

This project aims at studying the genetic structure of populations of Coronella austriaca in Alsace, in order to assess the conservation status of a common species within its core area of distribution.
According to the data that were gathered for the distribution atlas of amphibians and reptiles, it is a pretty widely distributed species in the region. Still, observations about the ecology and biology of this snake are scarce, and little is known about the species. The questions I will try to answer are:

- is there a low genetic structure among populations in the whole region?

- are populations
separated by putative barriers (such as roads, villages, crop fields) actually fragmented, or not?

In order to answer these questions, I will analyse microsatellites markers from nuclear DNA. Microsatellites are already published for this species. Samples will be obtained from buccal swabbings and scale clipping (one ventral scale). Snakes are caught in sites located throughout the whole Alsace, by using artificial shelters placed on the ground. This technique works pretty well for secretive reptiles such as the smooth snake, or the slow worm Anguis fragilis.

This work is conducted under the supervision of Dr. Sylvain Ursenbacher, of the Conservation biology lab of the University of Basel (Switzerland). It's part of a Master curriculum that I follow in 2009-2010 at MNHN.

The first part of the study is now over. I wrote a report for my Master's , here it is: Vacher J.-P. 2010 - Caractérisation génétique des populations et conservation de la coronelle lisse, Coronella austriaca, en Alsace. Mémoire de Master, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle/Université de Bâle. [pdf]

I still have some samples to analyse during winter 2010-2011. After these, I plan on writing a scientific article about this study.

Two smooth snakes in Alsace, May 2007

2. Chytrid infection on amphibians in Alsace; 2009 - 2010

I started to collect samples of almost all amphibians species (Salamandra salamandra and Rana arvalis are excluded for now) of Alsace. The first aim of this study is to determine if Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis occurs in Alsace, and which species are infected.

This study is carried out under the supervision of Pr. Claude Miaud and Tony Dejean (PhD).

Update 1: enventually, I managed to get samples of 2 individuals of the extremely rare moor frog Rana arvalis for this study! I found them in late April/early May 2009 on a site along the Rhine river while looking for yellow-bellied toads!

Update 2: the 2009 season is over, and I still miss some species, that I plan to sample in 2010 anyhow: Triturus cristatus, Alytes obstetricans, Pelobates fuscus, Rana temporaria, Pelophylax lessonae, Pelophylax ridibundus and Pelophylax kl. esculentus.

the 2010 season is over, and I still miss some species! This year was not as good as other years for amphibians in Alsace. I only got very few samples of Alytes obstetricans and Pelobates fuscus. These species are somehow quite rare in the region. Anyway, I managed to sample Rana temporaria and Pelophylax ridibundus, and get few samples of Alytes obstetricans and Pelobates fuscus. More on the results later!

Me swabbing a male Ichthyosaura alpestris in march 2009 in Southern Alsace © Laurent Schwebel