• Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Youtube

Herpetology Students

Current Students

Name: Chad Keates

University: Rhodes University

Supervisors: Shelley Edwards & Werner Conradie

MSc: Genetic structuring in Psammophylax (Fitzinger 1843), a widespread African snake genus.

Description: The Psammophylax genus is a widespread south-east African genus with sixcurrently described species, and multiple sub-species. Although far-ranging in Africa, the individuals of this genus show little morphological variation, with the most prominent distinguishing characteristics being colouration and patterning. Variation may be cryptic and thus the use of genetic methods may unearth diversity, previously missed by morphologically-orientated taxonomy. Members of the Psammophylax genus are also severely understudied from a molecular taxonomy perspective, making them the ideal subject of a genetically-orientated systematic research project. The project is split into two sections. The first chapter is a phylogenetic study of the entire genus and the second chapter is a phylogeographic study of Psammophylax rhombeatus rhombeatus. The first chapter aims to look at the Southern African endemic and test the effect that contrasting environmental conditions have on genetic structuring in the species and the second chapter will look at the genus with the aim of bringing more taxonomical clarity to the widespread, yet relatively under-studied genus.

Peer Review Papers:

Keates C, Conradie W, Greenbaum E, Edwards S. A snake in the grass: Genetic structuring of the widespread African grass snake (Psammophylax Fitzinger 1843), with the description of a new genus and a new species. J Zool Syst Evol Res. 2019;57:1039–1066.  



Name: Anthony Evlambiou

University: Rhodes University

Supervisors: Shelley Edwards & Werner Conradie

MSc: Body morphology of the Acontias genus of legless skink with specific interest in the head

Description: Acontias is a genus of fossorial legless skinks of which the majority of the species are endemic to southern Africa. All species within this genus have a relatively conserved body shape, elongated and cylindrical in shape with no ornamentation or limbs. This can make it fairly difficult to distinguish the close to 30 existing species from each other. It is for this reason that new methods to be able to delineate species are always looked for even if they are just as an aid to existing methods such as genetics. The fact that Acontias are head-first burrowers also brings up an interesting thought. Do the head shapes of this genus vary according to the environment in which they are found burrowing in? It has been shown in other taxa that species have adapted their phenotype to best suit the environment in which they are found. This study will be looking at two things: 1)Can vertebral count be used as a delineation method on its own or alongside existing methods as extra evidence. 2) Using both 2D and 3D morphometrics to determine whether the head shape of Acontias have developed due to ancestry or environmental pressures as well as determining if burrowing behaviour plays any role in this process.



Name: Emily Jackson

University: Rhodes University

Supervisor: Shelley Edwards & Werner Conradie

Honours: BSC (Hons) Zoology

Description: The Hydrophis genus consists of around 30 species, only one of which is known to inhabit South African coastal and pelagic waters - the Yellow-bellied sea snake, with its natural history traits largely understudied. In this study we looked at the natural history traits of the yellow-bellied sea snake Hydrophis platurus, from preserved museum specimens - focussing on diet, morphology, reproductive biology and stranding locations along SA’s coatline. We determined sexual dimorphism and reproductive outputs for H. platurus by examining gonads, morphological characteristics and embryos/neonates.

Past Students/Interns

Name: Theo Busschau

University: Stellenbosch University

MSc: Comparative phylogeography of three co-distributed forest-living reptile species along the east coast of South Africa

Supervisors: Savel Daniels and Werner Conradie

Description: In this study we will be comparing the genetic structure of three co-distributed forest living reptile species, the Natal Black Snake (Macrelaps microlepidotus), the Forest Thread Snake (Leptotyphlops sylvicolus) and the Pondo Flat Gecko (Afroedura pondolia), across their distribution in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa. By obtaining genetic data for all three species we wish to examine the biogeographic history of forest living reptiles in South Africa. Congruent patterns among such co-distributed species would suggest that they share a common history in response to past events that lead to forest fragmentation in South Africa. To understand the biogeographic history of these taxa we will compare the relative timing of speciation events to the timing of major climatic changes or similar events that could’ve lead to habitat fragmentation and isolation within species. 

Peer Review Papers:

Busschau T, Conradie W, Daniels SR. 2020. One species hides many: Molecular and morphological evidence for cryptic speciation in a thread snake (Leptotyphlopidae: Leptotyphlops sylvicolus Broadley & Wallach, 1997). J Zool Syst Evol Res. 2020;00:1–27.  

Busschau T, Conradie W, Daniels S. 2019. Evidence for cryptic diversification in a rupicolous forest-dwelling gecko (Gekkonidae: Afroedura pondolia) from a biodiversity hotspot. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 139, 106549 

Busschau T, Conradie W, Jordaam A, Daniels SR. 2017 Unmasking evolutionary diversity among two closely related South African legless skink species (Acontinae: Acontias) using molecular data. Zoology 121:72-82.


Name: Judith Natsai Theodora Kushata 

University: Stellenbosch University

MSc: Comparative phylogeography of three anuran species in the Eastern Cape forests, South Africa

Supervisors: Savel Daniels, Michael Cherry and  Werner Conradie

Description: The study aims at investigating and comparing the phylogeography of three anurans species within four forest subtypes which are potentially inadequately conserved and at risk of further habitat loss and fragmentation from proposed developments in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Two terrestrial leaf litter, forest dependent species, Anhydrophryne rattrayi and Arthroleptis wahlbergi, confined to the Amathole Mistbelt and the Coastal Scarp forests, respectively will be compared to a widespread generalist species, Cacosternum nanum.

Peer Review Papers:

Kushata JNT, Conradie W, Cherry MI, Daniels SR. 2020. Comparison of the mitochondrial phylogeographical structure of a generalist and two specialist frog species reveals contrasting patterns in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, blaa049,


Name: Nokuthula Kom

University: University of Fort Hare

MSc: Amplification of the Hogsback caco (Cacosternum thorini) calls by the inhabitat pools in the Tor Doone area of Hogsback

Supervisors: Judith Masters, Fabien Genin, Werner Conradie

Description: Cacos (Cacosternum spp.)  are typical cryptic species, explaining why new species are regularly described in this genus. For instance, many cryptic species like cacos can be recognized by strikingly distinct vocalizations. This is the case of Cacosternum thorini that is instantly diagnosed by its unique incremental call, with the same unit (pulse) repeated in increasing number per syllable. The study is aimed at analysing the amplification of territorial calls by the inhabitat pools uttered by a tiny frog (Cacosternum thorini) in comparison with the amplification of calls of the slightly larger frog (Cacosternum nanum).


Name: Luke Kemp

University: Rhodes University.Sc Honours in African Vertebrates

BSc Honours: Phylogenetic comparison of Ptychadena porosissima (Steindachner, 1867)

Supervisors: Shelley Edwards, Martin Villet and Werner Conradie

Description: This project aims to look at the genetics of the Striped Grass Frog (Ptychadena porosissima) across its range and determine the relationship between the South African population and the population up north (Angola). Mitochondrial genes (16S) will be used to determine the relationship between the two populations. A significant difference could lead to a split in species and the southern population reverting back to Ptychadena poyntoni Guibé, 1960.


Name: Alexander Rebelo

Degree: MSc. completed at Stellenbosch University

Supervisor: Werner Conradie

Project: Morphological differences between southern African Amietia species

Description: Can we distinguish between Amietia fuscigula, A. poyntoni and A. delalandii morphologically? Species described solely on genetic differences cannot be identified in the field or in Museum collections, especially when occurring sympatrically. I aim to rectify this problem by conducting detail morphological analysis among the three species.

Peer Review Papers:

Rebelo AD, Bates MF, Burger M, Branch WR, Conradie W. 2019. Range expansion of the Common Dwarf Gecko, Lygodactylus capensis: South Africa’s most successful reptile invader. Herpetology Notes, volume 12: 643-650.