Professor Paul Skelton

sampling Congo tributary research on Lake Liambezi, Zambia setting fyke nets on Malagarasi
swamp fishing Caprivi Impalila Island community meeting Denis fishing
Research Associate
Professor Paul Skelton
Tel : +27 46 603 5816
Fax : +27 46 622 2403

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Research Interests

Systematics and biogeography of African freshwater fishes
Management of scientific collections and institutions

At the end of August 2011 Prof Paul Skelton retired from his position of Managing Director of SAIAB, a position he held for over 16 years since April 1995, in order to give some attention to systematic ichthyology. In particular there is a need to describe a number of species that have been discovered through 'barcoding' and other molecular studies as part of a general revision of the freshwater fishes of southern Africa.

My research interests on African freshwater fishes may be traced over a 40 year span in several distinct phases, starting with 12 years at the Albany Museum where I completed my PhD on the systematics of the redfin minnows (Genus Pseudobarbus), and also initiated studies on Zambezian fishes that continues actively at present.

Two other life-long interests stem from my Albany Museum days, firstly a deep passion for historical ichthyology, and secondly for the conservation of freshwater fishes.

In 1984 I moved to the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology and spent the next 12 years focused on four areas, firstly the fishes of the Okavango system, secondly studies on Amphiliid catfishes, thirdly on a regional (southern African) synthesis, and fourthly on the conservation status of the freshwater fishes of South Africa. As Managing Director my research took a back seat but I was able to continue with taxonomy and with studies on Amphiliid catfishes in particular, and through students and other colleagues and collaborators developed an interest in karyology and molecular barcoding as a means to identify species.

In addition my experience over many years as a Curator and through visiting leading collection institutions internationally, has allowed me to make valuable contributions to wet collection development in Africa.

Current major Projects include a focus on the fishes of the Quanza and Okavango Rivers in Angola, Namibia and Botswana; and a revision of my book A complete Guide to the freshwater fishes of southern Africa.

Current collaborations are with Roger Bills and Denis Tweddle on southern African freshwater fishes; with Drs Richard Vari (NMNH-Smithsonian Institution) and Carl Ferraris (USA) on Doumeine (Amphiliid) catfishes.

I am the Southern African Regional Chair of the IUCN/WI Freshwater Fish Specialist Group - Chairman Professor Gordon McGregor Reid.

I have no post-graduate students, but teach two courses to the DIFS III class.


Recent Peer-Reviewed Publications


Swartz, E.R., Chakona, A., Skelton, P.H. & Bloomer, P. 2013, "The genetic legacy of lower sea levels: does the confluence of rivers during the last glacial maximum explain the contemporary distribution of a primary freshwater fish (Pseudobarbus burchelli, Cyprinidae) across isolated river systems?",Hydrobiologia, , pp. 1-13 (published online 28 Nov 2013)


Kramer, B., Bills, R., Skelton, P. & Wink, M. 2012. A critical revision of the churchill snoutfish, genus Petrocephalus Marcusen, 1854 (Actinopterygii: Teleostei: Mormyridae), from southern and eastern Africa, with the recognition of Petrocephalus tanensis, and the description of five new species. Journal of Natural History 46(35-36), 2179-2258.

Vari, R.P., Ferraris Jr., C.J. & Skelton, P.H. 2012. New species of congoglanis (Siluriformes: Amphiliidae) from the southern Congo River basin. Copeia 4, 626-630.

Books, reports and theses

Bills, R., Skelton, P. & Almeida, F. 2012. A survey of the fishes of Upper Okavango River System in Angola. SAIAB Investigational Report No. 73. Report to Southern Africa Regional Program (SAREP), Maun, Botswana. 62 pp.


Skelton, P.H. 2012. African freshwater ichthyology – past, present and future. Keynote lecture to DIFS students, Rhodes University, Grahamstown.