Prof. Sophie von der Heyden

Fields of interest

Sophie von der Heyden

Cape Times, 26 April, 2009
Cape Times, 26 April, 2009

My interests started in the field of marine population genetics and the use of genetic markers in delineating population and stock structure in fish and invertebrate species. I am fascinated how life history and oceanography interplay to shape the population genetic structure of marine organisms. This has now branched out into investigating ways to incorporate genetic data into marine conservation planning in southern Africa, and especially their applicability in Marine Protected Area design. This part of my research focuses on a wide variety of marine organisms, ranging from commercially exploited species to intertidal molluscs, crustaceans, fishes and more! Other projects that have come our way include uncovering seafood fraud, phylogenetic approaches to marine evolution, parasite and host relationships and a whole bunch more.

I also seem to have developed a love affair with clinid fishes! This group displays an amazing amount of morphological (especially colour) diversity, strange modes of reproduction (Superembryonation) and extreme ecological adaptations. As such, they are a brilliant study system for understanding not only phylogeographical patterning in the light of reduced larval dispersal, but also incipient and cryptic speciation, polyandrous mating systems and the evolution of vivipary in coastal fishes.

Molecular tools have wide applicability in the marine field in South Africa. See below for some of the main research interests of the marine molecular group:

        • Marine conservation planning and the integration of population genetics and gene flow into Marine Protected Area networks

        • Population genetics and management of southern African commercially exploited fish and invertebrate species such hakes (Merluccius spp.), yellowtail (Seriola lalandii), rock lobster (Jasus and Palinurus spp).

        • Molecular ecology of coastal vertebrate and invertebrate marine species

        • Cryptic and incipient speciation in southern African marine species, especially within clinid fishes

        • Host-parasite evolution and co-phylogeography in marine systems

        • Phylogenetic approaches of southern African marine species to shed light on the evolution

            Available November 2012

          and diversification of southern African marine fauna

        • Invasive marine species and their invasion histories
          Fraudulent mislabelling of seafood products in South Africa

        • Paleoclimatic change and the effect of historical change on marine biodiversity

        • Biogeography of southern Africa in a global context

Check us on facebook! vonderHeydenlab


There are always opportunities for enthusiastic and dynamic students…. Please email me 
svdh@sun.ac.za) to enquire about future student projects and bursaries (MSc, PhD and Postdoctoral)





Students and postdocs

Profile on Google Scholar

Evolutionary Genomics

Recent field trips


Clinidae and South African gobies

South African clinids

Current collaboration

South Africa

Southern Underwater Research Group (SURG): Guido Zsilavecz - visit www.surg.co.za for a great website on all things underwater in False Bay and around the Cape Peninsula and for some amazing photography of our diverse marine life!

University of Cape Town: Dr Cecile Reed

University of the Western Cape: Prof Mark Gibbons

South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity: Mr Wouter Hollemann

Oceanographic Research Institute: Dr Johan Groeneveld

Dr Allan Connell: www.fisheggsandlarvae.com

University of Pretoria: Prof Paulette Bloomer

Marine Coastal Management: Dr Marek Lipinski


Universidade Federal de Santa

Catarina, Brazil: Dr Sergio Floeter

Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India: Dr Kartik Shanker

University of California , Berkeley , USA : Prof Rauri Bowie

University of California , Santa Cruz , USA : Prof Giacomo Bernardi

Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada (ISPA): Prof Vitor Almada

Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic: Drs Ivan Fila and Pavla Bartošová

The University of Auckland: Prof Kendall Clements

Other useful and cool stuff
http://sancor.nrf.ac.za/ - The South African National for Coastal and Oceanic research
www.iamwater.co.za – free-diving champion Hanlie Prinsloo and her Ocean conservation trust
http://www.marbef.org/worldconference/declaration.php - Valencia declaration


Contact Details

Department of Botany and Zoology
University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag X1
Matieland 7602
South Africa

T: +27 (0)21 808 9321
F: +27 (0)21 808 2405