SAIAB News » SAIAB hosts visiting Malaysian researcher

SAIAB Hosts Visiting Malaysian Researcher


Melissa Martin outside the SAIAB facility entrance.

The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) is the recognised leader in wet collection management and curation in South Africa and the JLB Smith Collection Management Centre includes a collection sorting laboratory, accommodation for collection staff and for visiting scientists and students.

As an Institute that serves as a major scientific resource for knowledge and understanding the biodiversity and functioning of globally significant aquatic ecosystems, SAIAB hosts visiting researchers and students from all over the world. These are exceptional scholars who can contribute to and enrich SAIAB's intellectual and research endeavours and international projection.

Melissa Martin in the JLB Smith Collection Management Centre conducting
morphometrics measurements and meristic counts on collected Enteromius specimens.

Currently SAIAB is hosting Dr Melissa Beata Martin. Melissa is a Malaysian lecturer cum researcher from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT). While on her visit at SAIAB, she is collaborating with Dr Albert Chakona (SAIAB’s Senior Scientist) to work on the taxonomic revisions of freshwater fishes (family Cyprinidae) in southern Africa. The specific focus of her two months visit is to contribute towards resolving the taxonomic conundrum of the goldie barb group (which currently contains three species, two that are endemic to South Africa and one that has a divided distribution between the Upper Zambezi and the Limpopo systems) and the sawfin minnows from the Eastern Zimbabwe Highlands freshwater ecoregion.


Left pic: Melissa Martin and Albert Chakona field sampling for freshwater crabs Potamonautes with Gavin Gouws at Amathole District.
Right pic: Melissa Martin and Albert Chakona recording data on the goldie barb Enteromius pallidus at Baakens River.

During the literature searches for the goldie barb group, it emerged that there are no type specimens for the goldie barb (Enteromius pallidus). This necessitated the designation of a neotype for this species, of which the manuscript is close to completion and ready for submission. There has also been a longstanding question about the diversity of sawfin minnows from the freshwater ecoregion of the Eastern Zimbabwe Highlands. Currently, there are three sawfin minnows recognised from this ecoregion, E. manicensis, E. eutaenia and E. palludinosus, of which the focus of Melissa’s visit is to review the taxonomic status of the Manica barb, E. manicensis

This work is being done in collaboration with Roger Bills (SAIAB researcher) and Emmanuel Vreven (the Royal Museum for Central Africa (MRAC)). They have examined a comprehensive collection of specimens from the Pungwe and Buzi river systems, and compared these to the syntypes of the Manica barb. Preliminary morphological analyses suggest that there could be three distinct species within what is currently identified as E. manicensis. Once completed, this revision is anticipated to result in resurrecting one of the species that was previously described from this region and description of a new species. Accurate species identification is deemed critical, particularly in this collaborative project where some of the species are of uncertain conservation status and may have been highly impacted by anthropogenic intervention (e.g. pollution) and invasive species.

The visit has afforded her a unique opportunity to gain access to Africa’s largest collection of freshwater fishes and to interact with Prof. Paul Skelton, a renowned freshwater ichthyologist on the African continent. She has enjoyed the warm African hospitality through her engagement with all the wonderful people that she has met in SAIAB, as well as interactions with a number of SAIAB’s visiting international collaborators. 

An opportunity to see the Big Five through field trips in the Eastern Cape Province has been the cherry topping. She is pleased with the progress thus far and looks forward to ongoing collaboration and strengthening the links between SAIAB and UMT to facilitate knowledge exchange between researchers working in both freshwater and marine ecosystems at the two institutions.