Dr Kate Sanders

Kate Sanders
ARC Future Fellow
School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Sciences

Kate's research focuses primarily on trait evolution and speciation in squamate reptiles, and the evolution of sensory systems in the transition to aquatic habitats in snakes. Her research has a substantial fieldwork component focused primarily in Indonesia and Western Australia; this has led to the discovery of new species, and generated ecological and distributional data that have contributed to conservation assessments.

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Dr Kate Sanders

Kate's research focuses primarily on trait evolution and speciation in squamate reptiles, and the evolution of sensory systems in the transition to aquatic habitats in snakes. Her research has a substantial fieldwork component focused primarily in Indonesia and Western Australia; this has led to the discovery of new species, and generated ecological and distributional data that have contributed to conservation assessments.

Kate's research group focuses primarily on trait evolution and speciation in squamate reptiles. Current projects involve: 1) phylogenetic and population genomic approaches to understanding the biogeographic origins of sea snake diversity in the Indo-Australian marine biodiversity hotspot; 2) reconstructing morphological evolution in sea snakes, especially the remarkably frequent origin of ‘microcephalic’ burrowing-prey specialists and possible role in promoting reproductive isolation and rapid species diversification; 3) the evolution of sensory systems in the transition to aquatic habitats in snakes, including transcriptomic studies of tail (skin) photoreception and vomeronasal gene family evolution. Kate’s research has a substantial fieldwork component focused primarily in Indonesia and Western Australia. This has led to the discovery of new species, and generated ecological and distributional data that have contributed to conservation assessments. She co-chairs the IUCN/SSC Sea Snake Specialist Group.


1996: Volunteer - Natal Crocodile Farm, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

1997: Reptile and bird diversity surveys for the Campfire Association, Zimbabwe

1998: Team leader ‘University of Aberdeen Expedition to the Western Ghats, India’

2000, 2001, 2002, 2003: 8 months doctoral sample collection in Thailand,Indonesia, Philippines.

2004-2011: 22 months reptile collection in Central Thailand, West Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia (Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku Utara).

2012-2014: 3 months sea snake survey and sample collection in West Papua and NW Australia.


Date Position Institution name
2015 Senior Lecturer University of Adelaide
2014 ARC Future Fellow University of Adelaide
2009 - 2013 ARC Australian Postdoctoral Fellow (APD) University of Adelaide
2006 - 2009 Postdoctoral Researcher University of Adelaide

Language Competencies

Language Competency
Indonesian Can speak and understand spoken


Date Institution name Country Title
2000 - 2003 University of Wales Bangor United Kingdom PhD
1995 - 1999 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom BSc (Honours) Zoology


Date Title Institution name Country
2012 Tropical Basic Offshore Safety Induction & Emergency Training (TBOSIET, 5501) Accrete Australia
2008 Working with venomous snakes Sonia Dewdney Australia

Research Interests

Conservation and Biodiversity, Evolutionary Biology, Genomics, Sensory Systems, Speciation and Extinction


Year Citation
2016 Lee, M., Sanders, K., King, B. & Palci, A. (2016). Diversification rates and phenotypic evolution in venomous snakes (Elapidae). Royal Society Open Science, 3, 1, 150277-1-150277-11.
2016 Simões, B., Sampaio, F., Loew, E., Sanders, K., Fisher, R., Hart, N. ... Gower, D. (2016). Multiple rod-cone and cone-rod photoreceptor transmutations in snakes: evidence from visual opsin gene expression. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 283, 1823, -.
2016 Crowe-Riddell, J., Snelling, E., Watson, A., Suh, A., Partridge, J. & Sanders, K. (2016). The evolution of scale sensilla in the transition from land to sea in elapid snakes. Open Biology, 6, 6, 160054-1-160054-12.
2016 Ukuwela, K., Lee, M., Rasmussen, A., de Silva, A., Mumpuni, , Fry, B. ... Sanders, K. (2016). Evaluating the drivers of Indo-Pacific biodiversity: speciation and dispersal of sea snakes (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae). Journal of Biogeography, 43, 2, 243-255.
2015 Sanders, K., Schroeder, T., Guinea, M. & Rasmussen, A. (2015). Molecules and morphology reveal overlooked populations of two presumed extinct Australian sea snakes (Aipysurus: Hydrophiinae). M. Hart (Ed.). PLoS One, 10, 2, e0115679-1-e0115679-13.
2015 Laustsen, A., Gutiérrez, J., Rasmussen, A., Engmark, M., Gravlund, P., Sanders, K. ... Lomonte, B. (2015). Danger in the reef: proteome, toxicity, and neutralization of the venom of the olive sea snake, Aipysurus laevis. Toxicon, 107, Pt B, 187-196.
2014 Sanders, K., Rasmussen, A. & Guinea, M. (2014). High rates of hybridisation reveal fragile reproductive barriers between endangered Australian sea snakes. Biological Conservation, 171, 200-208.
2014 Rasmussen, A., Sanders, K., Guinea, M. & Amey, A. (2014). Sea snakes in Australian waters (Serpentes: subfamilies Hydrophiinae and Laticaudinae) - a review with an updated identification key. Zootaxa, 3869, 4, 351-371.
2014 Ukuwela, K., de Silva, A., Mumpuni, , Fry, B. & Sanders, K. (2014). Multilocus phylogeography of the sea snake Hydrophis curtus reveals historical vicariance and cryptic lineage diversity. Zoologica Scripta, 43, 5, 472-484.
2013 Sanders, K., Rasmussen, A., Mumpuni, , Elmberg, J., de Silva, A., Guinea, M. & Lee, M. (2013). Recent rapid speciation and ecomorph divergence in Indo-Australian sea snakes. Molecular Ecology, 22, 10, 2742-2759.
2013 Eifes, C. T., Livingstone, S. R., Lane, A., Lukosche, V., Sanders, K. L., Courtney, A. J. ... Murphy, J. C. (2013). Fascinating and forgotten: the conservation status of marine elapid snakes. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 8, 1, 37-52.
2013 Bohm, M. & Sanders, K. (2013). The conservation status of the world's reptiles. Biological Conservation, 157, 372-385.
2013 Ukuwela, K., de Silva, A., Mumpuni, , Fry, B., Lee, M. & Sanders, K. (2013). Molecular evidence that the deadliest sea snake Enhydrina schistosa (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae) consists of two convergent species. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 66, 1, 262-269.
2013 Sanders, K., Lee, M., Mumpuni, , Bertozzi, T. & Rasmussen, A. (2013). Multilocus phylogeny and recent rapid radiation of the viviparous sea snakes (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 66, 3, 575-591.
2013 Jackson, T., Sunagar, K., Undheim, E., Koludarov, I., Chan, A., Sanders, K. ... Fry, B. (2013). Venom down under: Dynamic evolution of Australian elapid snake toxins. Toxins, 5, 12, 2621-2655.
2012 Sanders, K., Rasmussen, A., Elmberg, J., Mumpuni, , Guinea, M., Blias, P. ... Fry, B. (2012). Aipysurus mosaicus, a new species of egg-eating sea snake (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae), with a redescription of Aipysurus eydouxii (Gray, 1849). Zootaxa, 3431, 3431, 1-18.
2012 Ukuwela, K., Sanders, K. & Fry, B. (2012). Hydrophis donaldi (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae), a highly distinctive new species of sea snake from northern Australia. Zootaxa, 2012, 3201, 45-57.
2012 Rasmussen, A., Elmberg, J., Sanders, K. & Gravlund, P. (2012). Rediscovery of the rare sea snake hydrophis parviceps Smith 1935: identification and conservation status. Copeia, 2, 2, 276-282.
2012 Nijman, V., Shepherd, C., Mumpuni, & Sanders, K. (2012). Over-exploitation and illegal trade of reptiles in Indonesia. Herpetological Journal, 22, 2, 83-89.
2012 Kumar, A., Sanders, K., George, S. & Murphy, J. (2012). The status of Eurostus dussumierii and Hypsirhina chinensis (Reptilia, Squamata, Serpentes): With comments on the origin of salt tolerance in homalopsid snakes. Systematics and Biodiversity, 10, 4, 479-489.
2012 Sanders, K. & Gardner, M. (2012). Isolation, via 454 sequencing, characterisation and transferability of twelve microsatellite loci for Hydrophis spiralis, the yellow sea snake (Serpentes: Elapidae). Conservation Genetics Resources, 4, 4, 1101-1104.
2012 Murphy, J., Mumpuni, , de Lang, R., Gower, D. & Sanders, K. (2012). The Moluccan short-tailed snakes of the genus Brachyorrhos Kuhl (Squamata: Serpentes: Homalopsidae), and the status of Calamophis Meyer. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 60, 2, 501-514.
2012 Sanders, K., Rasmussen, A. & Elmberg, J. (2012). Independent innovation in the evolution of paddle-shaped tails in viviparous sea snakes (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae). Integrative and Comparative Biology, 52, 2, 311-320.
2012 Bertozzi, T., Sanders, K., Sistrom, M. & Gardner, M. (2012). Anonymous nuclear loci in non-model organisms: making the most of high-throughput genome surveys. Bioinformatics, 28, 14, 1807-1810.
2011 de Silva, A., Sivaruban, A., Ukuwela, K. D., Rasmussen, A. R. & Sanders, K. L. (2011). First record of a sea snake (Lapemis curtus) feeding on a Gastropod. Herpetology Notes, 4, 1, 373-375.
2011 Murphy, J., Mumpuni, & Sanders, K. (2011). First molecular evidence for the phylogenetic placement of the enigmatic snake genus Brachyorrhos (Serpentes: Caenophidia). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 61, 3, 953-957.
2011 de Silva, A., Ukuwela, K., Sivaruban, A. & Sanders, K. (2011). Preliminary observations on the reproductive biology of six species of Sri Lankan sea snakes (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae). Salamandra, 47, 4, 193-198.
2010 Sanders, K. & Lee, M. (2010). Arthropod molecular divergence times and the Cambrian origin of pentastomids. Systematics and Biodiversity, 8, 1, 63-74.
2010 Sanders, K., Mumpuni, , Hamidy, A., Head, J. & Gower, D. (2010). Phylogeny and divergence times of filesnakes (Acrochordus): Inferences from morphology, fossils and three molecular loci. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 56, 3, 857-867.
2010 Sanders, K. (2010). The impact of conservation on the status of the world's vertebrates. Science, 330, 6010, 1503-1509.
2010 Sanders, K., Mumpuni, & Lee, M. (2010). Uncoupling ecological innovation and speciation in sea snakes (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae, Hydrophiini). Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 23, 12, 2685-2693.
2009 Oliver, P. & Sanders, K. (2009). Molecular evidence for Gondwanan origins of multiple lineages within a diverse Australasian gecko radiation. Journal of Biogeography, 36, 11, 2044-2055.
2008 Sanders, K. & Lee, M. (2008). Molecular evidence for a rapid late-Miocene radiation of Australasian venomous snakes (Elapidae Colubroidea). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 46, 3, 1165-1173.
2008 Sanders, K., Lee, M., Leijs, R., Foster, R. & Keogh, J. (2008). Molecular phylogeny and divergence dates for Australasian elapids and sea snakes (hydrophiinae): evidence from seven genes for rapid evolutionary radiations. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 21, 3, 682-695.
2007 Sanders, K. & Lee, M. (2007). Evaluating molecular clock calibrations using Bayesian analyses with soft and hard bounds. Biology Letters, 3, 3, 275-279.
2006 Sanders, K., Malhotra, A. & Thorpe, R. (2006). Combining molecular, morphological and ecological data to infer species boundaries in a cryptic tropical pitviper. BIOLOGICAL JOURNAL OF THE LINNEAN SOCIETY, 87, 3, 343-364.
2006 Sanders, K. L., Grismer,, L. L., Youmans, T. M. & Gower, D. J. (2006). Checklist of the herpetofauna of Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia, with comments on taxonomy. Hamadryad, 30, 1 & 2, 61-74.
2006 Sanders, K., Malhotra, A. & Thorpe, R. (2006). Evidence for a Müllerian mimetic radiation in Asian pitvipers. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273, 1590, 1135-1141.
2004 Sanders, K. L., Malhotra, A., Thorpe, R. S., Gumprecht, A. & Kuch, U. (2004). Popeia inornata, a new species of pitviper from west Malaysia (Squamata: Viperidae: Crotalinae). Russian Journal of Herpetology, 11, 3, 171-184.
2004 Sanders, K., Malhotra, A. & Thorpe, R. (2004). Ecological diversification in a group of Indomalayan pitvipers (Trimeresurus): convergence in taxonomically important traits has implications for species identification. JOURNAL OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY, 17, 4, 721-731.
2002 Sanders, K., Malhotra, A. & Thorpe, R. (2002). A contribution to the systematics of two commonly confused pitvipers from the Sunda Region: Trimeresurus hageni and T. sumatranus. Bulletin of The Natural History Museum: Zoology Series, 68, 2, 107-111.

Conference Items

Year Citation
2012 Sanders, K. L., Rasmussen, A. R., De Silva, A., Mumpuni, N. A. & Ukuwela, D. B. (2012). Ecological innovation and speciation in viviparous sea snakes (Hydrophiinae). Annual Meeting of the Society-for-Integrative-and-Comparative-Biology (SICB). Charleston, SC.

Investigating the genes and population histories that drive rapid adaptive change and speciation. Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (Level 1) 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016-17.

Biodiversity of critically endangered but poorly-known sea snakes in northwest Australia. Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS), 2014, 2015, 2016.

Sea snake diversification: Why are certain taxa and regions species-rich. Australian Research Council Discovery Project with Mike Lee 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

Investigating the impact of seismic surveys on threatened sea snakes in Australia's North West Shelf. Australia Pacific Science Foundation with Mick Guinea, 2012, 2013, 2014. http://apscience.org.au/projects/APSF_12_5/apsf_12_5.html

Tail photoreception: Discovering a novel sensory system in Australian sea snakes. Hermon Slade Foundation. 2015. http://www.hermonslade.org.au/projects/HSF_15_10/hsf_15_10.html

EVOLUTION AND PALAEOBIOLOGY III; Course co-coordination, lecturing, designing and running practicals, exam and assay assessment (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014).

ISSUES IN EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY III: Course co-coordination, project supervision, report and presentation assessment (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014).

Ph.D. Kanishka Ukuwela (International student, University of Adelaide: Systematics, diversity and conservation of Indian Ocean sea snakes). Principal Supervisor. 

Masters. Amy Watson (University of Adelaide: Virtual evolution of a biomimetic sea snake robot). Co-supervisor. 

Honours. Amy Watson (University of Adelaide: Exploring sea snake skulls in 3D: evidence of an adaptive radiation?). Principal Supervisor. 

Honours. Jenna Crowe-Riddell (University of Adelaide: Scale sensillae: Mechanoreceptor evolution in marine and terrestrial snakes: Elapidae). Principal Supervisor. 

Committee Memberships

Date Role Committee Institution Country
2016 - 2019 Member National Committee for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Australian Academy of Sciences Australia
ARC Future Fellow
8313 4364
North Terrace
Darling Building
Room Number
2 12b
Org Unit
Ecology and Environmental Science