PhD project: Water as driver of evolution: the example of aquatic snakes.

Animal-environment interactions are determinant in driving the evolution of phenotypic variation. Most aquatic animals have developed adaptations to overcome the physical constraints inherent to an aquatic lifestyle.

The aim of this project is to evaluate the role of water as a potential driver of evolution by focusing on morphological and behavioral convergence during prey capture under water. Snakes are a good model as an aquatic life-style has originated independently in different genera. However, aquatic snakes did not develop a suction feeding system in contrast to most aquatic vertebrates. Prey-capture under water is constrained by the physical properties of the fluid and thus morphological and/or behavioral convergence is expected.

By comparing the head shape and the behavior of different species, we will evaluate the impact of water on the evolution of head shape and strike behavior in aquatic snakes. 

By using computational and experimental fluid mechanics approaches, we will quantify the physical constraints involved in prey-capture and evaluate the nature of the evolutionary response in response to these hydrodynamic constraints. This interdisciplinary approach will allow us to bring novel data to our understanding of functional constraints as drivers of phenotypic evolution.


 Supervised by: Anthony Herrel & Ramiro Godoy-Diana




Segall, M., Cornette, R., Fabre, A-C., Godoy-Diana, R. & Herrel, A. (2016). Does aquatic foraging impact head shape evolution in snakes? Proceedings of the Royal Society, London B, 2016(283), 1645.


Fabre, A-C., Bickford, D., Segall, M., & Herrel, A. (2016). The impact of diet, habitat use, and behavior on head shape evolution in homalopsid snakes. Biological Journal Of the Linnean Society, 118, 634–647


Segall, M., Tolley, K. A., Vanhooydonck, B., Measey, G. J., & Herrel, A. (2013). Impact of temperature on performance in two species of South African dwarf chameleon, Bradypodion pumilum and B. occidentale. Journal Of Experimental Biology, 216(20), 3828–3836.




Zoology 2014, 21st Benelux Congress of Zoology, Royal Belgian Zoological Society, Liège, Belgium. Talk.


SMEF 2016, 9th National Symposium of Morphometry and Shape Evolution, Paris, France. Talk.


ICVM 2016, 11th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology, International Society of Vertebrate Morphology, Washington DC, USA. Talk & Poster.


SICB 2017, Annual Meeting of the Society of Integration and Comparative Biology, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.