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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 & Emergen Accrete Australia
2008 Working with venomous snakes Sonia Dewdney Australia

Research Interests


Year Citation
2018 Allen, L., Sanders, K., & Thomson, V. (2018). Molecular evidence for the first records of facultative parthenogenesis in elapid snakes. Royal Society Open Science, 5(2), 171901-1-171901-6.
DOI Scopus1 WoS1 Europe PMC1
2018 Sherratt, E., Rasmussen, A., & Sanders, K. (2018). Trophic specialization drives morphological evolution in sea snakes. Royal Society Open Science, 5(3), 172141-1-172141-8.
2018 Sherratt, E., Coutts, F., Rasmussen, A., & Sanders, K. (2018). Vertebral evolution and ontogenetic allometry: The developmental basis of extreme body shape divergence in microcephalic sea snakes. Evolution and Development.
2017 Sarker, M., Sanders, K., Ukuwela, K., & Jamam, M. (2017). Sea snakes of Bangladesh: a preliminary survey of Cox’s Bazar District with notes on diet, reproduction, and conservation status. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 12(2), 384-393.
2017 Ukuwela, K., De Silva, A., & Sanders, K. (2017). Further specimens of the mud snake, Gerarda prevostiana (Homalopsidae) from Sri Lanka with insights from molecular phylogenetics. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 65, 29-34.
Scopus1 WoS1
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.
DOI Scopus5 WoS4
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), 8 pages.
DOI Scopus10 WoS7 Europe PMC6
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.
DOI Scopus23 WoS21 Europe PMC10
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.
DOI Scopus1 WoS1 Europe PMC1
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). PLoS One, 10(2), e0115679-1-e0115679-13.
DOI Scopus4 WoS4
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.
DOI Scopus18 WoS17 Europe PMC8
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.
DOI Scopus6 WoS5 Europe PMC3
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.
DOI Scopus3 WoS3
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.
DOI Scopus12 WoS11
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.
DOI Scopus25 WoS24 Europe PMC17
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.
Scopus28 WoS29
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.
DOI Scopus16 WoS16 Europe PMC5
2013 Bohm, M., & Sanders, K. (2013). The conservation status of the world's reptiles. Biological Conservation, 157, 372-385.
DOI Scopus282 WoS271
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.
DOI Scopus52 WoS49 Europe PMC23
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.
DOI Scopus10 WoS9 Europe PMC4
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.
DOI Scopus1 WoS1
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.
Scopus4 WoS3
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.
Scopus9 WoS9
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.
DOI Scopus4 WoS4 Europe PMC2
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.
DOI Scopus20 WoS17 Europe PMC11
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.
DOI Scopus2 WoS2
2012 Nijman, V., Shepherd, C., Mumpuni., & Sanders, K. (2012). Over-exploitation and illegal trade of reptiles in Indonesia. Herpetological Journal, 22(2), 83-89.
Scopus24 WoS25
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.
Scopus9 WoS9
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.
DOI Scopus4 WoS4
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 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.
Scopus2 WoS2
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.
DOI Scopus8 WoS8 Europe PMC2
2010 Sanders, K. (2010). The impact of conservation on the status of the world's vertebrates. Science, 330(6010), 1503-1509.
DOI Scopus609 WoS537 Europe PMC251
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.
DOI Scopus22 WoS20 Europe PMC13
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.
DOI Scopus24 WoS23 Europe PMC9
2010 Sanders, K., & Lee, M. (2010). Arthropod molecular divergence times and the Cambrian origin of pentastomids. Systematics and Biodiversity, 8(1), 63-74.
DOI Scopus27 WoS24
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.
DOI Scopus46 WoS38
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.
DOI Scopus48 WoS32 Europe PMC22
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.
DOI Scopus101 WoS95 Europe PMC55
2007 Sanders, K., & Lee, M. (2007). Evaluating molecular clock calibrations using Bayesian analyses with soft and hard bounds. Biology Letters, 3(3), 275-279.
DOI Scopus72 WoS69 Europe PMC58
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). 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., 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.
DOI Scopus16 WoS16 Europe PMC4
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.
DOI WoS30 Europe PMC15
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.
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
2017 Rodriguez Lopez, C. M., Konate, M., Sanders, K., & Thomson, V. A. (2017). Epigenetic divergence contributes to tiger snake adaptation to island environments. Poster session presented at the meeting of ComBio 2017. Adelaide, SA.
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). Poster session presented at the meeting of INTEGRATIVE AND COMPARATIVE BIOLOGY. Charleston, SC: OXFORD UNIV PRESS INC.

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.

Tail photoreception: Discovering a novel sensory system in Australian sea snakes. Hermon Slade Foundation. 2015.

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).

Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
2018 Principal Supervisor Study of Visual Evolution of Lizards Using Genetics and Anatomy/Histology Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Matthew John Robert Ford
2016 Principal Supervisor The evolution of skull shape and function in turtles Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Ray Chatterji
2015 Principal Supervisor Investigating the Reproductive Isolating Systems of Sea Snakes Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Jenna Crowe-Riddell
2015 Principal Supervisor Reptile Skull biomechanics Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Jaimi Ann Gray

Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
2010 - 2014 Principal Supervisor Systematics, Evolution and Biogeography of Viviparous Sea snakes of the Indo-Pacific Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Kanishka Dimithra Bandara Ukuwela

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, floor 2
Room Number
2 06
Org Unit
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology