Climate change impacts on the distribution of venomous snakes and snakebite risk in Mozambique

Abstract

This paper aims to understand the impacts of global climate change (GCC) on the distribution of dangerous venomous snakes and snakebite risk in Mozambique, as a contribution to the enhancement of public health policies and snake conservation. We modelled current and future distribution of all 13 dangerous snakes occurring in Mozambique using ecological niche models to assess the likely impacts of climate change estimated as the difference between lost and gained climatic suitable area per species. In addition, we developed a normalized index of snakebite risk based on species diversity and species-specific traits for each time slice. We then superimposed our index to data on human population density to identify areas most prone to this burden. Our findings suggest considerable future reduction in climatically suitable area for nine out of 13 species, with species experiencing a north-south range shift and high rates of species turnover in northern Mozambique. We also found that GCC might alter the spatial patterns of snakebite risk in the country, with considerable increase in the future, affecting most areas in central and southern regions. This finding suggests that GCC will be harmful to venomous snakes in Mozambique with potentially adverse effects on public health. As GCC might induce the approximation of snake climatic suitable areas to highly populated areas, efforts are needed to increase human knowledge of snakebite prevention measures and increase awareness of the relative safety and attacking behaviour associated with some of the snakes studied here ensuring reduction in snakebites and improving species conservation.

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Acknowledgements

Seriousness of snakebite and the potential of snake encounters benefited from e-mail discussions with Johan Marais of the African Snakebite Institute (http://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com), who also gave permission to use his poster on venomous snakes. DZ research is funded by a joint CAPES (Brazil) and IGC (Portugal) post-graduate scholarship. RL research is funded by CNPq (grant 308532/2014-7) and O Boticário Group Foundation for Nature Protection (grant PROG_0008_2013). This paper is a contribution of the Brazilian Network on Global Climate Change Research funded by CNPq (grant 437167/2016-0) and FINEP (grant 01.13.0353.00) and of the INCT in Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity Conservation founded by MCTIC/CNPq and FAPEG (grant 465610/2014-5). The Editor, three anonymous reviewers, and Diogo B. Provete provided important suggestions that greatly improved the quality of the paper.

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Zacarias, D., Loyola, R. Climate change impacts on the distribution of venomous snakes and snakebite risk in Mozambique. Climatic Change 152, 195–207 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2338-4

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