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Title: Diversity and diversification of uropeltid snakes
Author: Sampaio, Filipa Leão
ISNI:       0000 0004 9352 5497
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2020
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Fossorial snakes are key to understanding snake origins and trends of fossoriality in early snake evolution. However, they are generally understudied due to their secretive lifestyle, making them less likely to be encountered without special effort. Given their phylogenetic position and fossorial habits, this PhD project aims to study the evolution of a major radiation of fossorial snakes – the family Uropeltidae. Currently there are eight recognised genera and ca. 56 species, distributed in the Western Ghats of India and Sri Lanka. They show morphological traits that are adaptations to fossoriality, which have never been studied in detail, or with quantitative approaches. Their heads are adapted for headfirst burrowing, hence being important structures to study adaptation to the physical environment. Moreover, snakes in this group are commonly known as shieldtails due to the unusual structures on their tails, whose diversity and function are poorly known. This project employs an integrative approach to generate a taxonomically comprehensive molecular phylogeny for uropeltids, and to study lineage and phenotypic diversity and diversification patterns. This work provides insights into spatial, temporal and morphological patterns of diversification in these organisms and understand the impact that fossoriality has on biotic diversification. In summary, this thesis advances the understanding of evolutionary relationships among uropeltids, uncovering unexpectedly high levels of uropeltid molecular diversity. Moreover, results estimated constant lineage accumulation rates in uropeltids, and a pattern of early burst of phenotypic evolution in tail tip traits. These results suggest that while this is not a case of adaptive radiation, tail tip morphology might have played an important ecological role early on in the diversification of the Uropeltidae.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available