My research interests focus on the factors that influence the evolution of biodiversity. I primarily use phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate the causes and consequences of two types of diversity: species richness and the diversity of (e.g. behavioural) traits possessed by species. The traits I am most interested in are toxic weaponry of animals such as venoms and poisons. As part of my interest in the evolution of diversity, I also study convergent evolution - a phenomenon in which different lineages of organisms evolve similar traits. In particular I have an interest in methods for studying convergence. I maintain separate interests in applied and conceptual developments of animal husbandry and welfare. Finally, I have a particular penchant for reptiles (particularly snakes), amphibians, and a range of interesting (and often venomous) invertebrate groups, and try to focus my work on these groups wherever possible.

Areas of Expertise

  • Evolutionary biology
  • Venomous and poisonous animals
  • Phylogenetic comparative methods
  • Convergent evolution
  • Herpetology
  • Animal husbandry


  1. Ward-Smith, H., Arbuckle, K., Naude, A., Wüster, W. Fangs for the Memories? A Survey of Pain in Snakebite Patients Does Not Support a Strong Role for Defense in the Evolution of Snake Venom Composition Toxins 12 3 201
  2. Nichols, H., Arbuckle, K., Fullard, K., Amos, W. Why don’t long-finned pilot whales have a widespread postreproductive lifespan? Insights from genetic data Behavioral Ecology 31 2 508 518
  3. Davies, E., Arbuckle, K. Coevolution of Snake Venom Toxic Activities and Diet: Evidence that Ecological Generalism Favours Toxicological Diversity Toxins 11 12 711
  4. Keshri, V., Arbuckle, K., Chabrol, O., Rolain, J., Raoult, D., Pontarotti, P. The functional convergence of antibiotic resistance in β‐lactamases is not conferred by a simple convergent substitution of amino acid Evolutionary Applications 12 9 1812 1822
  5. Zdenek, C., Hay, C., Arbuckle, K., Jackson, T., Bos, M., op den Brouw, B., Debono, J., Allen, L., Dunstan, N., Morley, T., Herrera, M., Gutiérrez, J., Williams, D., Fry, B. Coagulotoxic effects by brown snake (Pseudonaja) and taipan (Oxyuranus) venoms, and the efficacy of a new antivenom Toxicology in Vitro 58 97 109

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  • BIO229 Tetrapod Evolution

    This module follows on from the introduction to vertebrates in the Level 4 Animal Diversity, Form and Function module, providing detail on form and function in vertebrates that spend all or part of their life cycle on land. Aspects of tetrapod behaviour, morphology and physiology will be considered in terms of adaptation and evolutionary constraint. Practicals will provide an introduction to the anatomy of birds and mammals by means of dissection, inference of the phylogenetic relationships between avian species, and an exploration of how beak morphology affects ecological niche in birds. Overall, students will gain an appreciation of the diversity of tetrapod types and an insight into the fundamental importance of metabolic rate in animals.

  • BIO253 Introduction to field zoology

    This residential field course comprises practical work employing techniques appropriate to sampling the zoological biodiversity of a range of terrestrial and freshwater habitats (coastland, woodland, grassland, freshwater systems). Students will learn techniques for the identification of species, practice recording accurate field notes, and gain experience in the analysis and presentation of zoological and ecological data. Furthermore students will be able to recognise and describe key groups of animals associated with a range of temperate habitats.

  • BIO345 Macroevolution and Phylogenies

    This module covers the concepts and techniques available in the study of macroevolution and phylogenetic comparative biology. It will introduce the range of ways in which phylogenies are built, how we can evaluate our confidence in the trees, and why phylogenetic trees can be important both to biology and to the wider world. You will then progress to studying how we can use information from phylogenies to understand how the traits possessed by organisms have evolved, how coevolutionary interactions persist through time (and how we know this has happened), and how the geographic distribution of organisms has been shaped by their evolutionary history. Finally, you will also study macroevolutionary patterns and concepts such as convergent evolution, species concepts, speciation, extinction, and diversification rates.


  • Comparing the rate of weapon and ornament diversification. (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr William Allen
  • Inbreeding avoidance mechanisms in banded mongooses (Mungos Mungo) (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr Hazel Nichols
  • Head bobbing energetics in the Starred Agama. (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr Kayleigh Rose
  • Evolutionary history of mongooses and related small carnivores (current)

    Other supervisor: Dr Hazel Nichols
  • Evolution of the defensive display of cobras (current)

    Other supervisor: Prof Rory Wilson

External Supervision

  • Jordan Debono: Venom evolution in Old World pitvipers and haemotoxic ‘colubrid’ snakes
  • Bianca Op Den Brouw: Evolution of Old World viper venoms
  • Christina Zdenek: Ecology and venom toxinology of death adders
  • Daniel Dashevsky: Toxinology of Old and New World coral snakes (Micrurus, Calliophis and Sinomicrurus)
  • Kate Baumann: Evolution of Hymenoptera venom systems