Project(s) of GTI scholarship holder OLBERS Jennifer

Taxonomy and biodiversity of the Ophiuroidea (brittle stars) of South Africa

Grantee: OLBERS Jennifer

Internship details

  • Years

    2010 and 2012

  • Training location

    Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and Royal Museum for Central Africa

  • Belgian supervisor

    Dr. Samyn Yves

  • Studied organism (classification)

    Animalia – Echinodermata – Ophiuroidea

  • Reports

South Africa has a strong history of marine taxonomic excellence but echinoderm taxonomy is one that is in danger of ceasing to exist as a result of the loss of expertise without replacement. Several recent collecting expeditions (by Belgian and South African scientists) resulted in the addition of 51 species of echinoderms to the region while Samyn (pers. comm.) confirms that the material deposited in the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) holds many new records for South Africa. This material has also resulted in the preparation of a paper on the genus Ophiocoma and subsequent collections in South Africa have resulted in the discovery of a species of brittle star living within a jellyfish that has not been documented in the region before. Other potential publications from the RMCA collection include an account of the Ophiuroidea of Sodwana bay which hosts the southernmost coral communities on the east coast of Africa.

The aim of the project is to revise the taxonomy, distribution and diversity of the Ophiuroidea of South Africa by:

  1. Examining existing ophiuroid material in museums, e.g. the iZiko South African museum (Cape Town) and the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium)
  2. Examining unidentified collected material from various surveys that are housed and are unaccessioned in museums;
  3. Collecting and examining material from the KZN coast;
  4. Describing new species and re-describing poorly described specimens/species;
  5. Diagnosis and synonymies of all generic and specific taxa with well-illustrated diagnostic characters to be completed;
  6. Creating checklists of the ophiuroid biodiversity of South Africa;
  7. Mapping distribution patterns using GIS technology;
  8. Creating modern and well-illustrated taxonomic keys for existing species; and
  9. Creating a photographic identification field guide.


Additional documentation

  • Find out more about the taxonomy of the South African Ophiuroidea by checking out Volume 19 of the series Abc Taxa, entitled “Field guide to the brittle and basket stars (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea) of South Africa”, to which Ms. Olbers contributed
  • Learn more about Ms. Olbers’ research by going through her presentation entitled “Lost in the Museum”, given at the 14th International Echinoderm Conference (Brussels, August 2012)

Scientific papers

  • Olbers, J. M., Samyn, Y., and Griffiths, C. L. (2015). New or notable records of brittle stars (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea) from South Africa. Afr. Nat. Hist. 11, 83–116.
  • Olbers, J. M., Rowe, F. W. E., Griffiths, C. L., and Samyn, Y. (2013). The rediscovery of a collection of echinoderms, including two holotypes, in the Durban Natural Science Museum, South Africa. Durban Natural Science Museum Novitates 36, 11–29.
  • Olbers, J. M., and Samyn, Y. (2012). The Ophiocoma species (Ophiurida: Ophiocomidae) of South Africa. Western Indian Ocean J. Mar. Sci. 10, 137–154.