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Publications on snake biology

Cite this dataset

Shine, Richard (2023). Publications on snake biology [Dataset]. Dryad.


The trajectory of biological research may be affected by historical factors (such as the study species and locations of influential researchers) as well as by underlying biological dimensions (such as species diversity and location of potential study taxa). Such influences on research focus can be clarified by examining the topics of published papers. Based on 93,816 scientific papers published on snake biology since 1804 (from the Web of Science), we found a non-random distribution of research output among snake clades, fields of research, and geographic locations, and strong changes through time in overall research effort as well as in the foci of that work. Snakes are the subjects of more scientific papers than are other lineages of reptiles, but research on turtles has been increasing faster, and research effort per species is higher for smaller reptile lineages. Studies on systematics and taxonomy dominated snake research until the mid-20th century when this field was overtaken by studies of venoms, ecology, morphology, and physiology. Colubrids and vipers have been the most popular study taxa, reflecting a concentration of research in continents (Europe and the Americas) where these taxa are diverse and abundant. Research effort on vipers increased from around 1920, reflecting advances in antivenom and radiotelemetry technology. Blindsnakes and smaller Families remain relatively neglected in absolute terms. Numbers of papers per species are tenfold greater for North American and European snakes than in most other regions. We attribute these non-random patterns to temporal and spatial variation in research priorities, methodology, and the availability of scientific infrastructure.


Web of Science search for publications on snake biology. We searched the Web of Science (WoS) in March 2022 using snake Family names as the search terms, and the title, abstract, and keywords of each paper as the fields to be interrogated. All years from 1900 to 2022 were included. The nomenclature of snake Families has changed frequently over recent years so for simplicity, we treated each lineage as a Family even if it meant including “Families” that are often given subfamilial status within large lineages (e.g., we searched on “Pareidae” as well as the broader “Colubridae”). Likewise, we searched for “Hydrophiidae” and “Laticaudidae” even though modern literature relegates these groups to subfamilial status within the Elapidae. Papers that listed a group as a Subfamily rather than a Family would be captured in searches based on the more inclusive Family (in this case, Elapidae). 

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Australian Research Council, Award: LP17010001