Distribution review, habitat suitability and conservation of the endangered and endemic Moroccan spadefoot toad (<em>Pelobates varaldii</em>)
The Moroccan spadefoot toad (Pelobates varaldii) has received little scientific attention since its discovery. Currently, P. varaldii is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List due to a multitude of threats, while its distribution is partially unknown and fragmented. The current study addresses distribution, threats and the potential niche using ecological niche modelling, while emphasizing conservation strategies and immediate actions. The distribution of P. varaldii can be divided into four disjunct areas, at least two of which consist of small populations. The largest threats to P. varaldii include the transformation of habitat and breeding ponds into agricultural and industrial areas, the pollution of breeding ponds due to extensive livestock pasturing and the possible expansion of Procambarus sp. into the Mamora cork oak forest. Additional threats constitute a reduction of gene flow and loss of genetic variability as a result of habitat fragmentation. The ecological niche models (ENMs) of P. varaldii revealed fundamental environmental conditions along parts of the northeast Moroccan Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline. The species mainly inhabits well vegetated areas upon Quaternary soils at low altitudes. Proposed conservation actions include the development of a biannual monitoring program, identification and designation of protected areas within the distribution and development of a management plan for Mamora forest.
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