Cutting off the Haloxylon shrubs in the vicinity of Gonabad has severe effects on Eremias grammica

Cutting off the Haloxylon shrubs in the vicinity of Gonabad has severe effects on Eremias grammica (LICHTENSTEIN, 1823) habitat in Khorasan, Iran



In Iran Eremias grammica is a critically endangered lacertid lizard only known from a single population in the east of Khorasan Razavi province. During a new survey of this area (September 2011) it has become clear that this population of Eremias grammica no longer exists, due to habitat destruction. However, a new population of Eremias grammica was found in similar sand dunes around Jangal city, and habitat protection is suggested.


Im Iran ist Eremias grammica vom Aussterben bedroht und nur von einer einzigen Population im Osten der Provinz Khorasan Razavi bekannt. Während einer neuen Untersuchung in diesem Bereich im September 2011 hat sich herausgestellt, dass diese Population aufgrund der Zerstörung des Lebensraumes nicht mehr existiert. Allerdings wurde eine neue Population von Eremias grammica in ähnlichen Sanddünen um die Stadt Jangal gefunden, für die nun ein Biotopschutz vorgeschlagen wird.


Genus Eremias FITZINGER, 1834 consists of 16 species that are recorded from Iran (MOZAFFARI et. al. 2011) where most of the species have colonized the eastern and central part of the Iranian Plateau. Eremias grammica (LICHTENSTEIN, 1823) is one of the species of this genus that has a wide distribution range in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan), Afghanistan and in the east of the Khorasan Razavi province situated in eastern Iran, where it is only known from a single area of sand dunes, 35 km north of Gonabad (34° 37’ 27.5” N; 058° 44’ 07.9” E; elevation: 879 m) (ANDERSON 1999; RASTEGAR-POUYANI et. al. 2007), a xeric area with a 8 month per year relative humidity less than 40%. Eremias grammica is considered by DARVISH & RASTEGAR-POUYANI (2012) as critically endangered partly due to the increasing aridification and destruction of its habitat.

Materials and Methods

Herpetological field work was conducted during two trips in the Khorasan Razavi province, the first in April 2010 and the second in September 2011, in order to collect data on the local herpetofauna.

Results and Discussion

During our first trip (April 2010) we were able to find some Eremias grammica at the known location 35 km north of Gonabad, however on our second visit to the same area Eremias grammica was not been found anymore. Two other species, Phrynocephalus ornatus and Eremias lineolata appear also to be declining in this area. It is not only the increasing drought which affects the lizards habitat, but also the activities of humans. We noticed local people cutting and collecting Haloxylon shrubs for providing fuel at home. This has a negative effect on the soil and initiates land erosion with a continuous decrease in plant variability and prey insects. Furthermore the shrubs provide shelter from predators and facilitate ambush opportunities to the lizards.

Image 1. Eremias grammica in natural habitat (photo by: Saeed Hosseinian).

Nowadays the sand dune habitat 35 km north of Gonabad is completely deteriorated (Image 2), so we searched on our second trip for alternative locations in the province in order to find new populations of Eremias grammica. A new location was found in the Kal-e Shour territory near Roshtkhar, Jangal city, Ali naghi village, at the coordinates N 34° 32’ 52.9”, E 059° 26’ 03.3”, and an altitude of 1388 m. Image 3 shows the sand dune habitat of the new location, with a rich coverage of Tamarix and Haloxylon as the key shrubs, proving to be essential for a good lizard habitat, as we know from the Gonabad location, where these shrubs were removed extensively. Image 1 shows one of the three specimens of Eremias grammica collected from this new location and deposited in the Sabzevar University Herpetological Collection (SUHC) under the numbers of 835, 836, 837. During the 1 day survey of this area other reptiles were also identified; Crossobaman eversmanni, Echis carinatus, Phrynocephalus ornatus, Eremias nigrocellata and Psammophis schokari.

Image 2. Habitat of Eremias grammica in the vicinity of Gonabad (N 34° 37’ 27.5”,
                 E 058° 44’ 07.9”), destroyed by human activity.
                   (photo by Saeed Hosseinian).

Image 3. Habitat of Eremias grammica in Jangal city, Ali naghi village (N 34° 32’ 52.9”,
                 E 059° 26’ 03.3”). Consider the rich vegetation of the region.
                   (photo by: Saeed Hosseinian).

Although the new location still has a rich vegetation, this area is under the same threat as the Gonabad location. During our 1 day survey we encountered local people with the intention of cutting the Tamarix and Haloxylon shrubs for the creation of coal for the nearby city of Torbat-e-Heydariyeh, without taking into account that this area is part of the Hangam protected area. Jangal city is lacking an office of the Department of Environment, so protection of this microclimate area is not enforced. We suggest that the Department of Environment will take the special status of the sand dunes around Jangal city in consideration and focus on the protection and maintenance of its vegetation in order to sustain the animal life, especially the critically endangered Eremias grammica. An environmental awareness program in combination with an alternative to the use of coal could be a starting initiative.

Image 4. Map of Iran and Khorasan Razavi province. The black circle is the Gonabad location and the red circle refer to the new population of Eremias grammica in Iran.


We thank the Environmental Office of Khorasan Razavi for their financial support.


ANDERSON, S.C. (1999): The Lizards of Iran. - Ohio Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

DARVISH, J. & RASTEGAR-POUYANI, E. (2012): Biodiversity Conservation of Reptiles and Mammals in the Khorasan Provinces, Northeast of Iran. - Progress in Biological Sciences, 2 (1): 95-109.

MOZAFFARI, O. & AHMADZADEH, F. & PARHAM, J. (2011): Eremias papenfussi sp. nov., a new lacertid lizard (Sauria: Lacertidae) from Tehran Province, Iran. - Zootaxa, 3114: 57-62.

RASTEGAR-POUYANI, N. & JOHARI, N. & RASTEGAR-POUYANI, E. (2007): Field Guide to the Reptiles of Iran (Vol. 1: Lizards). - Razi University Press.

SEYYED SAEED HOSSEINIAN YOUSEFKHANI, Iranian Plateau Herpetology Research Group (IPHRG), Faculty of Science, Razi University, 6714967346 Kermanshah, Iran.
ESKANDAR RASTEGAR POUYANI, Iranian Plateau Herpetology Research Group (IPHRG), Faculty of Science, Razi University, 6714967346 Kermanshah, Iran.
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Hakim Sabzevari University, Sabzevar, Iran.
AGHIL KEYVANLOO SHAHRESTANAKI, Department of Environment, Faculty of Fisheries and the Environment, University of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Gorgan, Iran.
MASOUD YOUSEFI, Department of Environment, Faculty of Natural resources, University of Tehran, Karaj, Iran.
MOHAMMAD ZARRINTAB, Department of Environment, Faculty of Natural resources and Earth science, Kashan University, Kashan, Iran.