Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Conservation Biology


Biological Sciences

Major Professor

Simon P. Lailvaux

Second Advisor

Charles D. Bell

Third Advisor

Philip Devries

Fourth Advisor

Jerome Howard

Fifth Advisor

Todd Lewis


Snakes represent an impressive evolutionary radiation of over 3,500 widely-distributed species, categorized into 515 genera, encompassing a diverse range of morphologies and ecologies. This diversity is likely attributable to their distinctive morphology, which has allowed them to populate a wide range of habitat types within most major ecosystems. In my first chapter, I provide the largest-yet estimate of the snake tree of life using maximum likelihood on a supermatrix of 1745 taxa (1652 snake species + 7 outgroup taxa) and 9,523 base pairs from 10 loci (5 nuclear, 5 mitochondrial), including previously unsequenced genera (2) and species (61). I then use this phylogeny to test hypotheses regarding heterogeneity in diversification rates and how this shaped overall patterns of snake diversity in Chapter 2. I also used the species-level phylogeny to test the evolution of habitat use in snakes, morphological variation, and whether distantly-related species exhibit morphological convergence in Chapter 3. Finally, in Chapter 4 I investigate how prehensile tails effect striking performance in arboreal snakes.


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Figueroa - Dissertation Ch. 1 Supplementary Information.pdf (800 kB)
Supplementary Information Chapter 1

Figueroa - Dissertation Ch. 2 Supplementary Information.pdf (448 kB)
Supplementary Information Chapter 2

Figueroa - Dissertation Ch. 3 Supplementary Information.pdf (343 kB)
Supplementary Information Chapter 3