What makes a hot-spring habitat “hot” for the hot-spring snake: Distributional data and niche modelling for the genus Thermophis (Serpentes, Colubridae)
Knowledge about species’ distributions is central to diverse applications in ecology, biogeography, and conservation science. Hot-spring snakes of the genus Thermophis share a distribution restricted to geothermal sites at the Tibetan Plateau (T. baileyi) and in the Hengduan Mountains (T. zhaoermii, T. shangrila). Although the suture zones of these regions are widely covered with hot springs, Thermophis populations are restricted to only a few of these habitats. Here, we use bioclimatic, topographic, and land cover data to model the potential distribution of the genus. Moreover, using logistic regression on field survey data of T. zhaoermii, we test whether hot-spring water parameters and landscape features correlate with the species’ presence or absence. Hot springs with temperatures between 45 and 100 °C and winter precipitation showed the most predictive power. At small scale, our data support the relevance of the hot-spring temperature on the species’ occurrence and indicate that also the along-valley distance from the hot-spring site to the major river might influence the distribution of Thermophis species. Our findings contribute to better understand factors shaping the current distribution of the genus and will aid in setting priorities in applied conservation biology for the hot-spring snakes.