Steppe rodents at the edge of their range: A case study of Spalax microphthalmus in the north of Ukraine
AbstractBased on results obtained during 2000–2018 by field research, polls of colleagues, and OSINT analysis, features of distribution of the greater mole rat Spalax microphthalmus in the eastern forest steppe of Ukraine were considered. The studied part of the species’ range is unique and represents the northern range edge of the entire Spalacidae family and of European steppe faunal assemblages in general. In total, data on 146 record localities were amassed, including 13 localities in the fragmented and 133 in the continuous part of the range. The offshoots of the Central Russian Upland in the valley of the Psel river (east of Sumy Oblast) are the sites with the highest density of settlements, while the species’ type biotopes are steppe balka slopes. The abundance of the greater mole rat decreased from the east to the west, and its colonies are the most fragmented along the Dnipro River. The species occurs in steppe and meadow habitats of an area of at least 20–50 ha. Analysis of the current and former distribution of the greater mole rat revealed that the species range contracts from the west; earlier it was a common species in different regions of the Middle Dnipro Area (including Kyiv city), but the current range edge runs along the line connecting Buryn – Nedryhailiv – Lokhvytsia – Myrhorod – Hadiach – Zinkiv – Zaliznychne. Isolated settlements exist in adjacent territories, particularly in Ichnia Raion of Chernihiv Oblast, and Lubny, Khorol, and Kobeliaky Raions of Poltava Oblast. The study showed that the species’ range contracted by two times to 35,000 km2 for the last 100 years, which includes only 430,000 ha of suitable habitats (15% of the range), allowing the existence here of 86,000–215,000 individuals. In fact, the species remained only in habitats that have been minimally affected by arable farming and other forms of active agricultural use. Besides, the species shows a clear confinement to habitats located near human settlements such as untilled lands, pastures with moderate grazing, waste and neglected lands, which constitute a separate group of transformed and semi-natural habitats. Formally, this allows the greater mole rat to be considered as a synanthropic species, because its inhabited biotopes, beside the zone of offshoots of the Central Russian Upland, have remained only near villages and along roads. The species also has an important biocoenotic role due to its burrowing activity and as prey of predatory birds (e.g., of the long-legged buzzard and Eurasian eagle owl) and mammals. The feeding period of the offspring of these predators generally coincides with the aboveground activity of mole rats, which lasts during May–July with a peak in June. Aboveground activity is mainly related to the resettlement of mole rats to new sites and dispersal of the young, due to which they became victims of predators.
Atamas, N., Tovpinets, M. (2006). Ssavtsi v zhyvlenni khyzhykh ptakhiv na Luhanshchyni: zahalnyy ohlyad danykh [Mammals in diet of birds of pray in Luhansk province: general review of data]. Proceedings of the Theriological School. 7 (Mammal Fauna of Eastern Ukraine), 260–267 (in Ukrainian).
Averin, V. G. (1915). Kratkiy obzor vrednykh i poleznykh mlekopitayushchikh Kharkovskoy gubernii [Brief review of harmful and useful mammals of Kharkiv province]. Bulletin on Pests of Agriculture and Their Control, 1, 13–34 (in Russian).
Charlemagne, M. (1915). Mlekopitayushchiye okrestnostey g. Kiyeva [The mammals of the vicinities of Kyiv]. In: Artobolevsky, V. М. (Ed.). Materials to the knowledge on the fauna of southwestern Russia (Part 1). K. F. Kessler Ornithological Society of Kyiv, Kyiv, 26–92 (in Russian).
Cremene, C., Groza, G., Rakosy, L., Schileyko, A. A., Baur, A., Erhardt, A., & Baur, B. (2005). Alterations of steppe-like grasslands in Eastern Europe: A threat to regional biodiversity hotspots. Conservation Biology, 19(5), 1606–1618.
Davidson, A. D., Detling, J. K., & Brown, J. H. (2012). Ecological roles and conservation challenges of social, burrowing, herbivorous mammals in the world’s grasslands. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10(9), 477–486.
Gavrys, G. G., Kuzmenko, Y. V., Mishta, A. V., & Kotserzhynska, I. M. (2007). Fauna khrebetnykh tvaryn natsionalnoho pryrodnoho parku Desnyansko-Starohutskyy [Fauna of Vertebrates of the Desniansko-Starogutsky National Nature Park]. Kozatsky Val, Kyiv. Pp. 1–118 (in Ukrainian).
Golov, B. A. (1975). Territorial'noye raspredeleniye slepysha v Poltavskoy oblasti [Territorial distribution of the blind mole rat in the Poltava region]. Natural and Agricultural Zoning of the USSR. Moscow University Press, Moscow, 127–129 (in Russian).
Gulyaevskaya, N. S. (1954). Royushchaya deyatelnost slepysha (Spalax microphthalmus Güld.) (Yego landshaftnoye i selskokhozyaystvennoye znacheniye) [The burrowing activity of the mole rat (Spalax microphthalmus Güld.) (Its landscape and agricultural significance)]. Moscow State Pedagogical Institute, Moscow (in Russian).
Habel, J. C., Dengler, J., Janišová, M., Török, P., Wellstein, C., & Wiezik, M. (2013). European grassland ecosystems: Threatened hotspots of biodiversity. Biodiversity and Conservation, 22(10), 2131–2138.
Hadid, Y., Tzur, S., Pavlíček, T., Šumbera, R., Šklíba, J., Lövy, M., Fragman-Sapir, O., Beiles, A., Arieli, R., Raz, S., & Nevo, E. (2013). Possible incipient sympatric ecological speciation in blind mole rats (Spalax). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(7), 2587–2592.
Karpenko, K. K., & Kovtun, V. A. (1996). Roslynnist Sumskoyi oblasti, yiyi suchasnyy stan i problemy okhorony [Vegetation of the Sumy region, its current state and problems of protection]. In: The state of the natural environment and the problems of its protection in Sumy region. Volume 1. Sumy. Pp. 33–59 (in Ukrainian).
Korobchenko, M. (2009). Nazemna aktyvnistʹ pidzemnoho hryzuna Spalax microphthalmus [Overground activity of underground rodent Spalax microphthalmus]. In: Zoocenosis-2009. Biodiversity and role of animals in ecosystems: IV International Conference. Lira Press, Dnipropetrovsk. Pp. 329–331 (in Ukrainian).
Korobchenko, M., & Zagorodniuk, I. (2009). Taksonomiya ta rivni dyferentsiatsiyi slipakiv (Spalacidae) fauny Ukrayiny i sumizhnykh krayin [Taxonomy and levels of differentiation in molerats (Spalacidae) of the fauna of Ukraine and adjacent countries]. Scientific Bulletin of the Uzhgorod University. Series Biology, 26, 1–14 (in Ukrainian).
Korobchenko, M. A., Zagorodniuk, I. V., & Emelianov, I. G. (2010). Pidzemni hryzuny yak zhyttyeva forma ssavtsiv [Underground rodents as life type of mammals]. Proceedings of the National Museum of Natural History, 8, 5–32 (in Ukrainian).
Korobchenko, M. (2012). Model prostorovoyi dynamiky populyatsiy slipaka uprodovzh roku [Model of spatial dynamics of mole-rat populations during a year]. In: Zagorodniuk, I. (Ed.). Dynamics of Biodiversity. Luhansk University Press, Luhansk. Pp. 48–51 (in Ukrainian).
Kotlyakov, V., & Komarova, A. (2007). Elsevier’s dictionary of geography: in English, Russian, French, Spanish and German. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Kravchenko, S. G. (2008). Dani pro zhyvlennya kanyuka stepovoho (Buteo rufinus (Cretzschm.) v umovakh Prysamarya [Data on diet of the long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus (Cretzschm.) in Samaria river region]. In: Gavriliuk, M. N., & Fesenko, G. V. (Eds.). Birds of prey of Ukraine: Materials of the 3rd International Scientific Conference (Kryvyi Rih, October 24–25, 2008). Kryviy Rih, 205–209 (in Ukrainian).
Kutseryb, T. (2011). Struktura nir krota yevropeyskoho (Talpa europaea L.) ta spetsyfika yikhnoyi budovy [Structure of burrows of the European mole (Talpa europaea L.) and features of their construction]. Visnyk of the Lviv University. Series Biology, 55, 100–109 (in Ukrainian).
Lövy, M., Šklíba, J., Hrouzková, E., Dvořáková, V., Nevo, E., & Šumbera, R. (2015). Habitat and burrow system characteristics of the blind mole rat Spalax galili in an area of supposed sympatric speciation. PLoS One, 10(7), e0133157.
Migulin, O. O. (1928). Soni, slepyshi, myshovki, tushkanchiki i zaytsy severo-vostoka Ukrainy (byvsh. Khark. gub.) [Dormice, mole rats, birchmice, jerboas, and hares of the northeast of Ukraine (former Kharkiv Governorate)]. Protection of Plant in Ukraine, 3–4, 169–180 (in Russian).
Migulin, O. O. (1938). Zviri URSR (materialy do fauny) [Mammals of the Ukrainian SSR (Data on the Fauna)]. Academy of Sciences, Ukrainian RSR, Kyiv (in Ukrainian).
Németh, A., Hegyeli, Z., Sendula, T., Horváth, M., Czabán, D., & Csorba, G. (2016). Danger underground and in the open – predation on blind mole rats (Rodentia: Spalacinae) revisited. Mammal Review, 46(3), 204–214.
Nevo, E., Filipucci, M. G., Redi, C., Simson, S., Heth, G., & Beiles, A. (1995). Karyotype and genetic evolution in speciation of subterranean mole rats of the genus Spalax in Turkey. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 54(3), 203–229.
Nikolskii, A. A. (2007). Temperaturnaya nisha obyknovennogo slepysha Spalax microphtalmus Guld. [Temperature niche of the greater mole rat Spalax microphthalmus Güld. (1770)]. Russian Journal of Ecology, 38(4), 271–276.
Petrova, T. V., Zakharov, E. S., Samiya, R., & Abramson, N. I. (2014). Phylogeography of the narrow-headed vole Lasiopodomys (Stenocranius) gregalis (Cricetidae, Rodentia) inferred from mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences: An echo of Pleistocene prosperity. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, 53(2), 97–108.
Pidoplichka, I. (1929). Do vyvchennya kopalnykh hryzuniv Ukrayiny [To the study of fossil rodents in Ukraine]. Ukrainian Hunter and Fisher, 1, 22–24 (in Ukrainian).
Puzachenko, A. Y., & Vlasov, A. A. (1993). Royushchaya deyatelnost slepysha Spalax microphthalmus (Rodentia, Spalacidae) [Digging activity of the mole rat Spalax microphthalmus (Rodentia, Spalacidae)]. Zoologicheskii Zhurnal, 72(11), 91–102.
Redinov, K. O. (2010). Ekologiya kurgannika v Nikolayevskoy oblasti [Ecology of the long-legged buzzard in Mykolayiv region (South Ukraine)]. Berkut, 19(1–2), 116–132 (in Russian).
Reshetnyk, E. (1941). Materialy do vyvchennya systematyky, heohrafichnoho poshyrennya ta ekolohiyi slipakiv (Spalacinae) URSR [Materials to the study of systematics, geographical distribution and ecology of mole rats (Spalacinae) in the Ukrainian RSR]. Proceedings of the Zoological Museum (Kyiv), 24, 23–95 (in Ukrainian).
Shevtsov, A. (2001). Hnizduvannya stepovoho kanyuka v Oleksandriyskomu rayoni Kirovohradskoyi oblasti [Breeding of the Long-legged Buzzard in Olexandriya district of Kirovograd region]. Berkut, 10(1), 63–66 (in Ukrainian).
Stativa, A. I., & Knysh, M. P. (2010). Hnizduvannya stepovoho kanyuka v Sumskiy oblasti [Breeding of the long-legged buzzard in Sumy region]. Berkut, 19(1–2), 113–115 (in Ukrainian).
Strigunov, V. I. (2009). Kanyuk stepovyy [The long-legged buzzard]. In: Akimov, I. A. (Ed.). Red Data Book of Ukraine. Animals. Global Consulting, Kyiv (in Ukrainian).
Szczerbak, N. N. (1988). Zoogeograficheskoye deleniye Ukrainskoy SSR [Zoogeographical division of the Ukrainian SSR]. Vestnik Zoologii, 3, 22–31 (in Russian).
Topachevsky, V. A. (1969). Slepyshovyye (Spalacidae) [Mole Rats (Spalacidae)]. Fauna of USSR. Vol. 3(3). Nauka, Leningrad (in Russian).
Tyutkova, L. A. (1991). Pozdnepleystotsenovyye gryzuny stoyanki Betovo na r. Desne [Late Pleistocene rodents of the Betovo camp on the Desna River]. In: Zaytsev, M. V. (Ed.). Issues of taxonomy, faunistics and paleontology of small mammals. St. Petersburg. Pp. 159–178 (in Russian).
Vetrov, V. V., & Kondratenko, A. V. (2002). Osobennosti pitaniya filina (Bubo bubo) v Luganskoy oblasti (Vostochnaya Ukraina) [Feeding of the Eagle Owl, Bubo bubo, in Lugansk Region (Eastern Ukraine)]. Vestnik Zoologii, 36(6), 31–38 (in Russian).
Visser, J. H., Bennett, N. C., & van Vuuren, B. J. (2018). Spatial genetic diversity in the Cape mole-rat, Georychus capensis: Extreme isolation of populations in a subterranean environment. PLoS One, 13(3), e0194165.
Zagorodniuk, I. V. (1999). Stepove faunistychne yadro Skhidnoyi Yevropy: Yoho struktura ta perspektyvy zberezhennya [Steppe fauna core of Eastern Europe: Its structure and prospects of protection]. Reports of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, 5, 203–210 (in Ukrainian).
Zagorodniuk, I. (2006). Ssavtsi skhidnykh oblastey Ukrayiny: Sklad ta istorychni zminy fauny [Mammals of eastern provinces of Ukraine: Composition and historical changes of the fauna]. Proceedings of the Theriological School, 7, 216–259 (in Ukrainian).