03 August, 2012

The impact of military bases on scorpion populations in Afghanistan

Alexander Stewart has published an unusual, but very interesting article in the latest issue of The Journal of Arachnology. The aim of the paper is to see how coalition military bases have impacted on local scorpion populations (density and diversity), and it seems that this actually is the case for some species.

Coalition military bases in Afghanistan are increasing in area, infrastructure and population due to increased military efforts. From 2004 to 2010, a 40-hectare base in Ghazni, Afghanistan transitioned from a montane shrubland to a small, modern ‘‘village.’’ This shift comprised an over 50-fold increase in hardcover and a 20-fold increase in the human population. I searched the base with UV light (n 5 43.6 h) for scorpions, especially Mesobuthus Vachon 1950, an established, opportunistic scorpion found in Ghazni City, 5 km north. I completed my searches along two tracks (. 5 km total length) and considered all habitats for this scorpion. Anthropogenic microhabitats comprised concrete walls, concrete barriers, gabions or sandbags, each in contact with a dirt or gravel substrate (eight possible); all were thermally appealing (mean 5 2.3uC warmer than ambient temperature). Despite the population of Mesobuthus caucasicus Nordmann 1840 in Ghazni City and the increase in thermally attractive microhabitats on the base, I found no scorpions. I propose that the rapid anthropogenic change due to base improvements outpaces the capacity of this scorpion to disperse to a new, albeit satisfactory, environment. Here, I report my observations of scorpion diversity and abundance in east-central Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush Mountains, with a focus on the impact of increasing anthropogenic change upon the environment.

Stewart AK. Military base growth in Afghanistan: a threat to scorpion populations? J Arachnol. 2012;40(2):245-8. [Free full text]

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