School of Life Sciences

Professor Ahmed Thandar flanked by his son, Dr Mohammed Thandar; wife, Rasida; and daughter, Dr Yasmeen Thandar (Kharwa).

Book Publication of 55 Years of Research

Emeritus Professor Ahmed Thandar of the School of Life Sciences recently published his A taxonomic monograph of the sea cucumbers of southern Africa, South of the Tropic of Capricorn.

This monograph, long-awaited by local enthusiasts, marine biologists and sea cucumber specialists worldwide, focused on the Southern African marine region lying in the transitional zone between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific biomes. This region has a very rich marine biodiversity with elements from the two major oceanic regions and contains approximately 10% of the world’s fauna, in practically all groups.

The book was based on Thandar’s 55 years of research in the taxonomy of sea cucumbers with specific emphasis on the southern African region. The monograph included a brief account of the materials used; fixation, preservation and other techniques; an illustrated account of gross morphological characters; an illustrated glossary of the microscopic ossicles – indispensable in species identifications; some zoogeographical considerations; an updated checklist that summarises the biodiversity and faunistic components of all species; a dichotomous key to orders, families, genera and species; and a copiously illustrated systematic account of each species.

All seven currently recognised orders were represented, distributed over 26 families, 76 genera, 171 nominal and 10 indeterminate species, including a few new records for the southern African region. South Africa alone has 152 nominal species.

Each species account has a selected synonymy indicating the most pertinent synonyms, a brief diagnosis, the type locality, habitat notes, distribution data, concise remarks, a figure of the most important diagnostic characters and a distribution map. A comprehensive index and a full list of references cited or used in the text were also provided.

This book marks an epoch in Thandar’s long career at the University and as the only Sea Cucumber Specialist in South Africa. The book, a seminal piece of work, has been well received by international experts with comments varying from ‘a wonderful, beautifully illustrated book with stunning images,’ to ‘a gorgeous piece of work and a tribute to the author’s great scientific talents – a “topper” to his prodigious career,’ to ‘wish we had something this detailed for the Australian fauna – maybe one day!’

The monograph was published by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) with part funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and is available in hard cover directly from the publishers.

Professor Ademola Olufolahan Olaniran, Dean and Head of School said: ‘On behalf of the School of Life Sciences, I would like to congratulate Prof Thandar on this outstanding academic achievement. I am glad his dedication to this book, despite all odds, has finally paid off. This astounding taxonomic monograph, with its stunning images and beautiful illustrations, will definitely be a great scientific resource for use as a reference point for both teaching and research, worldwide. What a great way to conclude 55 years of extensive excellent research on the taxonomy of the sea cucumbers of southern Africa – well done!’

Mr Gan Moodley, lecture in the School of Life Sciences, congratulated Thandar on the publication of A taxonomic monograph of the sea cucumbers of southern Africa. ‘A brilliant and wonderful piece of work which will greatly serve not only South African holothurian taxonomists, but the wider marine community both locally and globally. I am truly delighted to see that this labour of love has finally culminated in a very useful resource that will be cherished by marine scientists for a long time to come!

‘As one of my mentors and a colleague in our School of Life Sciences at UKZN, I know how challenging this task was for you, including the unfortunate incident when your material was destroyed in a fire close to finalising your monograph. Your perseverance, dedication and passion have surely triumphed, and I wish you all the very best for the future!’ said Moodley.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Supplied