Bukovina blind mole rat Spalax graecus revisited: phylogenetics, morphology, taxonomy, habitat associations and conservation
- The Bukovina blind mole rat Spalax graecus is the westernmost representative of the genus and one of the least known European mammals. As currently understood, the species contains three isolates on both sides of the south-eastern Carpathian Mountains. Our focus was on Bukovina blind mole rats from north-eastern Romania and adjacent Ukraine, i.e. on the nominal subspecies Spalax graecus graecus Topachevskii 1976.
- Phylogenetic reconstruction based on 1140-bp-long cytochrome b sequence revealed a sister position of Spalax graecus against the genus Nannospalax. Pairwise Kimura two-parameter genetic divergences were evidently higher between Spalax graecus and the three species of Nannospalax (mean distances ± standard errors between 0.177 ± 0.014 and 0.197 ± 0.016) than between the three species of Nannospalax (up to 0.128 ± 0.010). The two genera were separated by 178 mutational steps.
- The Bukovina blind mole rat is so far known from 13 localities in north-eastern Romania and adjacent Ukraine.
- The most influential environmental factors in the Spalax graecus habitat model were seasonality in precipitation, type of soil and altitude. The elevational range of suitable habitats is 39–848 m. The area occupied is estimated at 15581 km2, but patches with high habitat suitability cover only 1604 km2.
- The main habitat for the Bukovina blind mole rat is likely to degrade and the conservation needs of the species will soon have to be taken into account. We recommend the inclusion of the species on Annex II or IV of the European Union's Habitats Directive on grounds of its (i) narrow endemism, (ii) small range of occupancy, (iii) small overall population size and (iv) vulnerability to changes in agricultural land use.