Feature

What’s in a name?

Investigation into Indian Ocean fishes shows the
impact of the science of naming and describing fish species.

Great things happen in Qunu, it would seem. The small Eastern Cape village that gave the world Nelson Mandela has also produced the formidable Yonela Sithole, achiever extraordinaire. Yonela officially joined the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (NRF-SAIAB) in Grahamstown, now Makhanda, in 2013 as an intern in the Marine Systematic Research Division and has since been thriving to make it into the fish taxonomy profession.

Today, Yonela is a PhD student registered at Rhodes University and supervised at NRF-SAIAB. She is first-author on a scientific paper published in the international peer-reviewed journal, Zootaxa. In this paper, the authors (Yonela Sithole, Elaine Heemstra and Monica Mwale) show that two fishes, the Comber (Serranus cabrilla – image 1) and the African seabass (Serranus knysnaensis – image 2) which were previously thought to be the same species are actually different species.

The African seabass was listed as a valid species by Heemstra & Heemstra (2004) in their book Coastal Fishes of Southern Africa, but no explanation was given, which left room for further investigation. In this recent investigation, the fish specimens identified as African seabass were compared to those identified as the Comber and the barred rockcod (Serranus novemcinctus) (Image 3), a third species also known to be found in the southwestern Indian Ocean (SWIO). Based on their different locations, external characteristics or features and DNA, the African seabass was confirmed to be a separate species and therefore, a more complete description of this species is given in this paper titled: Revalidation and redescription of Serranus knysnaensis Gilchrist, 1904, (Perciformes: Serranidae) with a new distribution record.

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