Phenotypic divergence between seasnake (Emydocephalus annulatus) populations from adjacent bays of the New Caledonian Lagoon

Richard Shine*, Claire Goiran, Terri Shine, Thomas Fauvel, Francois Brischoux

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Populations of widespread species often differ in phenotypic traits, although rarely in such a dramatic fashion as revealed by research on turtle-headed seasnakes (Emydocephalus annulatus). These snakes are highly philopatric, with mark-recapture studies showing that the interchange of individuals rarely occurs even between two adjacent bays (separated by <1.2km) in Noumea, New Caledonia. Data on >500 field-captured snakes from these two bays reveal significant differences between these two locations in snake morphology (mean body length, relative tail length, head shape), colour, ecology (body condition, growth rate, incidence of algal fouling), behaviour (antipredator tactics), and locomotor performance. For some traits, the disparity was very marked (e.g. mean swimming speeds differed by >30%). The causal bases for these phenotypic divergences may involve founder effects, local adaptation, and phenotypic plasticity. The spatial divergence in phenotypic traits offers a cautionary tale both for researchers (sampling of only a few populations may fail to provide a valid overview of the morphology, performance, and behaviour of a species) and managers (loss of local populations may eliminate distinctive genetic variation).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)824-832
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • coral reef
  • ecological divergence
  • Elapidae
  • Hydrophiinae
  • local adaptation


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