Shelley Edwards

Associate Professor

MSc Stellenbosch University (2009)
PhD Stellenbosch University (2013)

Phone: +27[0]46 603 8086
+27[0]46 622 8959


The amazing complexity of the natural world never ceases to amaze me, and I am truly privileged to be able to call myself an evolutionary biologist. After completing my undergraduate studies in Biodiversity and Ecology, I remained at the University of Stellenbosch to complete both my BSc (Hons) and MSc degrees in Zoology. It was during my position of research assistant at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in Cape Town in 2009 that I became interested in herpetofauna, and I completed my PhD work in 2013 at SANBI (though registered at Stellenbosch University). In 2015, I accepted the position of lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University.

Research Interests

In my research to date, I have been interested in how different species have adapted and evolved, and what the driving forces are for speciation events. In addition, I am interested in the seeming lack of congruence between genetic structure and morphological groupings in both small mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the southern African region. To explore these biological research questions, I have utilised a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the evolutionary processes in various vertebrate taxa (namely southern African mammals, reptiles and amphibians). I have used phylogenetic and phylogeographic techniques to determine genetic variation and relationships, morphometric techniques to investigate body shape, analyses to determine diets, and performance analyses to investigate the functional aspects of the various species.

For my doctoral work, I investigated the radiations of the southern African lacertid lizards from a genetic, morphological, functional, and ecological viewpoint. These lizards have got to be the highlight of my career thus far, as they are quite simply fascinating. I realise that every biologist feels that their study species is top notch, but it is the fact that these lizards seem to be so adept at adapting to their environments that truly fascinates me.

My postdoctoral work and my current research builds on the techniques that I learned during my postgraduate years, and I have expanded the range of taxa that I work on, to include amphibians, snakes, insects, and arachnids. I will be furthering my research by including 3D geometric morphometrics and SEM analyses in my research. In the future, I hope to continue to work with global taxa, as I feel that the processes driving speciation of our fauna needs to be understood, in order for it to be protected. 

Teaching Focus

  • Molecular Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Vertebrate and invertebrate evolution
  • Statistics

Shelley Edwards - catching

Current Projects

I am currently involved in the following research projects:

Herpetofauna and arachnid species diversity in the Eastern Cape.
Genetic uniqueness of South African south coastal species.
Evolutionary history of herpetofauna in the Eastern Cape region.
Invasion origins of Hemidactylus mabouia in the Eastern Cape province.
Phylogenetics and taxonomy of various snake species (Psammophylax and Duberria) and of Acontias skink species.


Students graduated:

MSc (co-supervisor):
Mr Clarke Van Steenderen
Ms Cassandra Barker

PhD (main supervisor):
Dr Chad Keates

PhD (co-supervisor):
Dr Krista Oswald


Current students/postdoctoral researchers:

MSc (main supervisor):

Mr Anthony Evlambiou (submitted for examination),

Ms Alungile Jeme,

Mr Bruce Roestof.

MSc (co-supervisor):

Mr Johnathan Balmer,

Ms Carmen Wormald,

Ms Asante Msimang


Postdoctoral researcher:
Dr Jessica Comley


 ZEML logo

 For more information on the Zoology and Entomology Molecular Laboratory research group click here.


Recent Publications

For more information on publications by Shelley Edwards, please visit her ResearchGate profile:


Jackson E, Edwards S. Conradie W. Diet, morphology, reproduction and distribution of the Yellow-bellied sea snake - Hydrophis platurus - along the South African coastline. In preparation.

Comley J, Edwards S. Population genetics investigations of brown hyena, using a newly developed individual identification method using genetic markers. In preparation.

Edwards S, Conradie W. The evolution and updated taxonomy of the slug-eater snakes, Duberria (Serpentes: Lamprophiidae). In preparation.

Zhao Z, Busschau T, Edwards S, Conradie W, Jordaan A, Pietersen D, Nicolau GK, Heideman N. The evolution and updated taxonomy of the acontine legless skinks (Scincidae: Acontinae). In preparation.

Baptista NL, Vaz Pinto P, Keates C, Edwards S, Rodel M-O, Conradie W. (2021) A new species of red toad, Schismaderma Smith, 1849 (Anura: Bufonidae), from central Angola. Zootaxa. In review.

Oswald K, Edwards S, Lee ATK, Cunningham SJ, Smit B. (2021). Genetic data shows evidence for past bottleneck and current dispersal in a sky island endemic. Conservation Genetics. In review.

Mshiywa FM, Edwards S, Bradley G. (2021) Assessment of the use of a new genetic barcode marker for the identification of red algae (Rhodophyta) species found along the South African coastline. Journal of Applied Phycology. In review.

Villet M, Edwards S. (2021) Phylogenetic position of the African cicada genus Tugelana Distant, 1912 (Hemiptera: Cicadidae). African Invertebrates. Accepted.

Nicolau GK, Petford M, Edwards S, Busschau T, Lynch K, Kemp L, Balmer J, Keates C, Hundermark CR, Weeber J, Conradie W. (2021) New insights into the geographical distribution, ecology and conservation status of South Africa’s endemic Coastal Leaf-toed Gecko, Cryptactites peringueyi (Boulenger, 1910). Herpetology Notes. 14: 439-450.

Conradie W, Nicolau GK, Kemp L, Edwards S, Klein Snaken-Borg, Reeves B. (2020). Lygodactylus capensis: New records for Makhanda area. African Herp News. 74: 78-82  

Van Steenderen CJM, Paterson ID, Edwards S, Day MD. (2020) Addressing the red flags in cochineal identification: the use of molecular techniques to identify cochineal insects that are used as biocontrol agents for invasive alien cacti. Biological Control. In review.

Oswald K, Edwards S, Lee ATK, Cunningham SJ, Smit B. (2019). Genetic data shows evidence for past bottleneck and current dispersal in a sky island endemic. Conservation Genetics. Submitted.

Bradley G, Edwards S, Mshiywa FM. (2019) Assessment of the use of a new genetic barcode marker for the identification of red algae (Rhodophyta) species found along the South African coastline. Journal of Applied Phycology. Submitted.

Keates C, Conradie W, Greenbaum E, Edwards S. (2019) 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. 57(4): 1039-1066.

Rink A, Bowie R, Altweg R, Edwards S, Collvile J. (2019) Contest dynamics and assessment strategies in combatant monkey beetles (Scarabaeidae: Hopliini). Behav. Ecol. 30(3): 713-723,

Branch WR, Baptista N, Keates C, Edwards S. (2019) Rediscovery, taxonomic status, and phylogenetic relationships of two rare and endemic snakes (Serpentes: Psammophinae) from the southwestern Angolan plateau. Zootaxa. 4590(3): 342-366

Conradie W, Busschau T, Edwards S. (2018) Two new species of Acontias (Acontinae, Scincidae) from the Mpumalanga Highveld escarpment of South Africa. Zootaxa. 4429 (1): 089–106.

Edwards S, Tolley KA, Measey GJ (2017) Habitat characteristics influence the breeding of Rose’s dwarf mountain toadlet Capensibufo rosei (Anura: Bufonidae). Herp. J. 27(3), 287-298.

Edwards S, Herrel A, Vanhooydonck B, Measey GJ, Tolley KA (2016) Diving in head first: trade-offs between phenotypic traits and sand-diving predator escape strategy in Meroles desert lizards. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 119(4), 919-931.

da Silva JM, Feldheim K, Daniels RJ, Edwards S, & Tolley KA (2016) Analysis of genetic diversity in Rose’s mountain toadlet (Capensibufo rosei) using novel microsatellite markers. Afr. J. Herp. 65(2): 69-82.

Measey GJ, Vimercati G, de Villiers FA, Mokhatla MM, Davies SJ, Edwards S, Altwegg R. (2015) Frog eat frog. PeerJ. 3: e1204.

Vanhooydonck B, Measey GJ, Edwards S, Makhubo B, Tolley KA, Herrel A (2015) The effects of substratum on locomotor performance in lacertid lizards. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 115(4): 869–881.[pdf]

Baeckens S, Edwards S, Huyghe K, Van Damme R (2015) Chemical signalling in lizards: An interspecific comparison of femoral pore numbers in Lacertidae. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 114 (1): 44–57 [pdf]

Edwards S (2014) Convergence in morphology is preceded by convergence in performance in lizards. In: Kiernan MP (ed.) Lizards: Thermal Ecology, Genetic Diversity and Functional Role in Ecosystems. Nova Publishers, Hauppauge, NY, USA.

Bates MF, Tolley KA, Edwards S, Davids Z, Da Silva JM, Branch WR (2013). A molecular phylogeny of the African plated lizards, genus Gerrhosaurus Wiegmann, 1828 (Squamata: Gerrhosauridae), with the description of two new genera. Zootaxa. 3750 (5): 465–493 [pdf]

Edwards S, Tolley KA, Vanhooydonck B, Measey GJ, Herrel A (2013) Is dietary niche breadth linked to morphology and performance in Sandveld lizards Nucras (Sauria: Lacertidae)? Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 110: 674–688 [pdf]

Edwards S, Branch WR, Vanhooydonck B, Herrel A, Measey GJ, Tolley K (2013) Taxonomic adjustments in the systematics of the southern African lacertid lizards (Sauria: Lacertidae). Zootaxa. 3669 (2): 101–114 [pdf]

Edwards S, Vanhooydonck B, Herrel A, Measey GJ, Tolley K (2012) Convergent evolution associated with habitat decouples phenotype from phylogeny in a clade of lizards. PLoS-One 7 (12): e52636. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051636. [pdf]

Last Modified: Wed, 25 Jan 2023 12:38:02 SAST