South Africa has diverse marine molluscan fauna, rich in endemic species. This fauna has been the focus of much of our scientists’ research endeavour in the past. Our collection is a priceless resource for taxonomic and biogeographic studies, and in recent decades has enabled us to publish revisionary papers in scientific journals on many previously neglected groups of South African molluscs, such as the Fissurellidae, Epitoniidae, Scissurellidae, Trochidae, Turridae, and Ungulinidae. To take advantage of co-operative ventures with the global scientific community, representative material is continually sent to overseas specialists for inclusion in their research, and few comprehensive papers on the taxonomy of South African / Indo-Pacific molluscs do not refer to Natal Museum material.
After a period of little active research on terrestrial molluscs, following the departure of Dolf van Bruggen in the mid 1960s, interest in this field has been revived and land snails and slugs have now become the primary focus of research. A field guide to the land snails and slugs of eastern South Africa was published in 2004, the museum’s centenary year (Herbert & Kilburn 2004). This was targeted at a wide range of potential users – university students, field ecologists, conservation officers, farmers, horticulturalists, naturalists and hobbyists, and has generated welcome interest in these animals both within the general public and within the biological community. Our latest research efforts are concentrated on continental molluscan faunas of sub-Saharan Africa, carried on by Igor Muratov.
Our mollusc research is also very much targeted at conservation issues and the databasing of our collection undertaken by Nthombi Mkhize and in the last few years by Matabaro Ziganira has helped enormously in this regard. MSc student Vanashrie Govender (University of KwaZulu-Natal) utilised this database to analyse distribution patterns, and to identify diversity foci and endemicity hot-spots, so that this information can be integrated into conservation planning. Rare and endemic species are also being assessed in terms of the IUCN red-listing criteria, so that we can draw attention to their conservation needs.