Spermophilus citellus 

Scope: Mediterranean
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Rodentia Sciuridae

Scientific Name: Spermophilus citellus (Linnaeus, 1766)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English European Ground Squirrel, European Souslik, European Squirrel
French Souslik D'Europe
Spanish Ardilla Terrestre
Taxonomic Notes: Eight subspecies have been described, but their validity was not confirmed in a comprehensive review of the species (Kryštufek 1996, 1999).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2bc (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2010
Date Assessed: 2008-01-01
Assessor(s): Hutterer, R., Kryštufek, B., Yigit, N. & Mitsain, G.
Spermophilus citellus has shown overall declines of at least 30% across its range in the Mediterranean region and qualifies for Vulnerable (VU A2bc). There are several isolated subpopulations and subspecies that deserve special attention. The subspecies macedonicus in Greece is practically extinct as a result of widespread habitat loss (G. Mitsain pers. comm. 2007), and subspecies gradojevici has very restricted range in Greece and Macedonia. Another isolated subpopulation in Karamani (Macedonia) has an extremely small range (certainly <100 km² and scattered distribution) and deserves particular attention. In Turkish Thrace, habitat destruction is causing serious ongoing declines and the popualtion there should also be closely monitored; it may be close to extinction within the next ten years if declines continue as they are (Yigit, N. pers. comm. 2007). Ground squirrels are very sensitive to habitat changes: conversion and abandonment of short-grass habitats can cause very rapid population declines.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The European souslik is endemic to central and south-eastern Europe, where it occurs at altitudes of 0-2,500 m. Its range is divided in two by the Carpathian mountains. The north-western portion extends through the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, northern Serbia and Montenegro, and western Romania, whilst the south-eastern portion extends from southern Serbia, Macedonia and Greece through Bulgaria and southern Romania to Turkish Thrace, Moldova and Ukraine (Panteleyev 1998, Kryštufek 1999).
Countries occurrence:
Austria; Bulgaria; Czech Republic; Greece; Hungary; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Moldova; Romania; Serbia (Kosovo, Serbia); Slovakia; Turkey; Ukraine
Regionally extinct:
Croatia; Germany
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):2500
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The European souslik is currently in serious decline. Its population has become fragmented, and extinctions have occurred in peripheral parts of its range in Germany (where it went extinct c.1985 because of forestry) and Poland (where the last definite autochthonous records date from the 1970s, although the species has recently been reintroduced (Kryštufek 1999, H. Meinig pers. comm. 2006, A. Gondek pers. comm. 2006). Although there are still some large and apparently stable subpopulations, there have been many reports of declines, especially in the north-western part of its range; it is also declining in the southern part of the range. In optimal habitat, densities of 18-48 individuals per hectare have been recorded, although lower figures of 5-14 individuals per hectare are also reported (Kryštufek 1999). In Romania, the population has been estimated at c.15,000 (Botnariuc and Tatole 2005). In parts of Dobrudja (Romania and Bulgaria) populations may have stabilised and started to increase since 1989, as a result of abandonment of intensive agriculture following the fall of the communist regime (I. Coroiu and D. Murariu pers. comm. 2006). In Greece, populations of two subspecies macedonicus and graolojenici) have been lost (B. Kryštufek pers. comm. 2006).

In the Czech Republic there were 83 known localities in 1995, but by 2000-2001 only 26 of them still existed (Cepáková and Hulová 2002). Since 2001, there has been regular monitoring of S. citellus. Five new sites have been found, six colonies have disappeared, one was re-established due to reintroduction and one site has been naturally colonized following conservation management. Fluctuation or stagnation of abundance has been observed at eleven sites, numbers of sousliks have steadily decreased at seven sites, and only in five colonies have populations increased. In 2006 the total number of S. citellus living in the Czech Republic was estimated at 2,750 (J. Mateju unpublished data).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The European souslik has quite specific habitat requirements. It is restricted to short-grass steppe and similar artificial habitats (pastures, lawns, sports fields, golf courses) on light, well-drained soils, where it can excavate its burrows (Kryštufek 1999, Spitzenberger 2002). It avoids cultivated land, with the exception of vineyards in some parts of its range (Spitzenberger 2002). It has an omnivorous diet including seeds, roots, shoots, flowers, and arthropods (Nowak 1999, Kryštufek pers. comm. 2006).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The main threats to this species are the conversion of steppe-grassland and pasture to cultivated fields or forestry, and the abandonment of pasture and its subsequent reversion to tall-grass meadows or scrubby habitats which are not suitable for the souslik (Kryštufek 1999). In Austria it is therefore largely restricted to vineyards, airstrips, golflinks, sport- and camping grounds and other frequently mown lawns where it is completely dependent on the toleration of the owners (Spitzenberger 2002). Although not a major threat, some Gypsy communities in central and eastern Europe still catch sousliks for use as a traditional meal (J. Mateju pers. comm. 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: It is listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annexes II and IV of the EU Habitats and Species Directive. Research is needed to determine population status and trends, ecological requirements, potential threats, and appropriate conservation measures. In 2005, the species was reintroduced to Poland by the NGO Salamandra, and animals survived the first winter hibernation (A. Gondek pers. comm. 2006). In 2006 a project was initiated to reintroduce the species to Germany (H. Meinig pers. comm. 2006).

Citation: Hutterer, R., Kryštufek, B., Yigit, N. & Mitsain, G. 2010. Spermophilus citellus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T20472A9203833. . Downloaded on 22 September 2018.
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