Category Archives: conservation

THE RACE: As the (Flat)worm Turns

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Dr. Tom Daniel, senior botanist, demonstrating impressive intrepidity in a Sao Tome river. GG VII A.  Stanbridge phot.

In the earliest blogs we discussed how islands are ideal for studying certain evolutionary processes and patterns; some of these phenomena like gigantism and dwarfism (below) are actually characteristic of islands. And, the results of these processes are much easier to see on islands because of their smaller size (versus, say, continents) and the smaller size of the plant and animal populations that inhabit them.

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Worlds largest (left, Sao Tome) and smallest (right, Principe) Begonia. (RCD construct).

Invasive species are organisms that somehow become accidentally established in areas where they did not exist before; they can be hugely damaging to ecosystems especially on islands, that are made up of plant and animal species that have co-evolved in isolation over perhaps millions of years. In the absence of natural predators (checks and balances), invader populations can become numerous and spread rapidly, and this can have a devastating effect by exhausting the resources these species utilize in the local environment. Invasive animal species populations can burgeon hugely, and then frequently die off; by then, the damage is usually done.

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(Phot. Miko Nadel, GG VII)

A few years ago, we received a photo of a brightly colored worm-like creature on São Tomé (above), taken by one of our graduate students, Miko Nadel, a lichenologist from San Francisco State University. This striped creature turned out to be a terrestrial flatworm, a member of a primitive phylum of invertebrates called the platyhelminthes. Those of us lucky enough to study biology backwhen students were given actual organisms to observe rather than plastic models or video clips will remember “planarians,” aquatic flatworms (below) noted for their amazing ability to regenerate.

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Planarian (Dugesia) . Stock photo, Google photos.

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Flatworm regeneration. (Univ. Heidelberg photo.

Terrestrial flatworms, also known as geoplanids have no anatomical or physiological mechanisms for retaining water and are thus very much tied to moist environments. They are voracious predators upon other soil invertebrates such as earthworms, slugs and, most importantly for us, snails. Geoplanids secrete a mucus that begins to digest and dissolve their prey externally (below), and all geoplanid species known feed using an extendable digestive tube or pharynx.

new geoattackGeoplanid attacking a snail. (R. Lima, phots)

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As above, at Macambrara, Sao Tome. [Phot S. Mikulane]

Once aware of these, we began to notice more of them as did our ecologist colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima, and we all became rather concerned. Why? Readers may recall that about half to 60% of all of the species of terrestrial mollusks (snails) of both São Tomé and Príncipe are endemic; i.e., they are found nowhere else in the world.

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[RCD construct-multiple photographers]

In fact, these snails have been isolated on the island and evolving for such a long period that scientists currently recognize six different genera and a unique snail family there! Given what we know about invasive species, if these geoplanids are indeed a new arrival then the unique snail fauna of the islands may well be in significant danger.

 

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Another geoplanid [phot. F. Azevedo]

In 2012, we sent the original specimen to Dr. Ronald Sluys of Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in Leiden, Holland, one of the few specialists on flatworms. In the meantime, Dr. Ricardo Lima (below) has been conducting ecological research on the São Tomé forests for several years and has been able to collect many more geoplanids and send them to Dr. Sluys.

When the GG IX team visited Dr. Lima at Monte Café, São Tomé last year, he showed us pictures of a number of very different looking morphs of flatworms that he had collected and sent to Dr. Sluys. Were these different species or just variations on one or two species (morphs)?

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Various geoplanids from Sao Tome [phots R. Lima, F. Azevedo, M. Nadel, R. Rocha]

Ron Sluys has been supervising a graduate student from the University of Kassel, Germany who is doing his MSc degree based on this material. His name is Matthias Neumann and as I write, he is on the island of São Tomé with Dr. Lima, studying the flat worms in situ and collecting more! We were able to fund his expedition with the Academy’s Gulf of Guinea Fund (see “Partners”, below).

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Matthias Neumann and partner in the bush on Sao Tome. [R. Lima phot]

Matthias’ preliminary work suggests that there are indeed a number of species of geoplanids on the island: at least five new, undescribed species of the genus Othelosoma, and another previously known species, Bipalium kewense. B. kewense is an extremely widespread species, presumably carried about in the roots of plants; evidently it preys on earthworms rather than snails.

So far, little is known of these strange creatures. Neumann says that at least two of the undescribed species of Othelosoma are snail predators but even so, the presence of a number of species on the island rather than one dominant, rapidly spreading one might be taken as somewhat reassuring. If there are a number of closely related members of the same flatworm genus, it is more likely that the common ancestor of these species arrived a long time ago, speciated, and thus co-evolved with the endemic snail fauna. If this is so, than we would expect an ecological predator/prey balance in this system. If the flatworm fauna is in fact a radiation from a given colonizer, then it would mirror the status of the earthworm fauna as we understand it (below). So far, we are uncertain whether geoplanids are present on Príncipe.

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We are in the planning stages for GG XI; see the next blog.

The Parting Shot:

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A local teacher assists us in a binoculars demonstration on Sao Tome, GG IX. Dr. Luis Mendes in background.  [phot. A. Stanbridge]

Partners:

The research expeditions and the primary school education program are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* We are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. GG VIII, IX , X and upcoming GG XI have been funded by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, and members of the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118
USA

 

 

THE RACE: GG X – “I Came for the Waters”

No apologies for the Casablanca reference!

Members of Gulf of Guinea X, our third marine expedition, have recently returned from scuba-sampling the inshore waters of Príncipe. The expedition was led by Dr. Luiz Rocha, chair of our Ichthyology Department and his colleague, Dr. Sergio Floeter, of the University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. The group consisted of seven divers including a São Tomean graduate student, Hugulay Maia; the team operated out of Roça Belo Monte, courtesy of Africa’s Eden, and used the dive boat of Makaira Lodge with our old friend Bobby Bronkhorst as skipper.

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GG X team: (above, l to r) L. Fontoura,, R. Morais, Dr. Luz Rocha (leader), J. Gasparini, Dr. Cadu, H. Maia, Dr. S. Floeter. (below) Hugulay Maia earned SCUBA certification on this research trip.

The marine component is particularly important to our understanding of the scope of the biodiversity of the Gulf of Guinea Islands. Readers will recall that Príncipe is geologically the oldest island of the archipelago, originally rising from the ocean floor in the Oligocene, some 31 million years ago.

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The early margins of the island (above),  now weathered to 100m below sea level, are very old habitats. We can expect this region to have unique (endemic) species because as we know that species in isolation change over time; evolution occurs in marine habitats just as it does in terrestrial environments. Most of the specimens and tissues are yet to be analyzed but there are some early exciting discoveries:

Clepticus africanus endemic
Clepticus africanus,  an endemic damselfish known only from the  Gulf of Guinea Islands, from Sao Tome to Annobon.

Corcyrogobius lubbocki type series only
Lubbock’s goby, Corcyrogobius lubbocki: These are the second living specimens encountered in Principe since the species was orginally described in 1988. Previously, the species was known only from Ghana, and Annobon, the southernmost island in the archipelago.

Sparisoma choati also on P type Neds dock Sparisoma choati, Tomio’s parrotfish.

In the October 2011 blog I reported that a new species of parrotfish (above) was being described from a specimen caught on rod and reel by Dr. Tomio Iwamoto (CAS) from the pier of our friend Ned Seligman, in São Tomé during GG II (below). It is not everyday that a new species is caught from an old friend’s dock!!  The GG X team just collected the first Príncipe specimens since then (above) and as you can see, they are quite different in coloration from the original specimen from the big island.

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Type locality of Tomio’s parrotfish, Ned Seligman’s dock, Praia Francesa, Sao Tome.

While in the field, Dr. Rocha wrote:

“We are surprised to see such clear signs of overfishing in an island with only ~7,000 inhabitants. We saw no sharks, and the few large fish were very scared, a tell tale of spearfishing.
Part of Hugulay and Renato’s work is to interview local fishermen and try to get more clues of how bad overfishing is here. And their interviews reveal a problem that was even bigger than we thought: there are reports of dynamite fishing!”

https://www.calacademy.org/blogs/gulf-of-guinea-expeditions/where-are-the-fishes-0

In earlier blogs, I have included quite a few images of large fish caught just offshore on Príncipe over the years (below),  so Dr. Rocha’s observations are disturbing.

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Twenty kg+  barracuda, caught off Praia Lemba-Lemba, Principe in 2001.

The dynamite or blast fishing issue is an especially critical one, as underwater habitat can be permanently destroyed as a result. The activity was originally brought to the attention of local authorities some years ago; nevertheless, most of the local inhabitants in the fishing industry know about it according to the team, and indications are that it continues in spite of government efforts.
Príncipe was named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2013, and I am proud to add that the scientific results of our multidisciplinary expeditions played a positive role in the island’s recognition as a unique place on the globe.  Apart from the obvious long-term economic and environmental consequences of continued blast fishing, Príncipe’s World Biosphere status could make this activity extremely visible internationally and embarrassing. As of 2007, 403 inshore fish species have been listed for this tiny 10002 km island. Unchecked and unstudied over fishing in these idyllic tropical waters will disastrously degrade the incredible biodiversity levels of this ancient island.

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 This summer my colleagues Martim Melo, Ricardo Lima, Luis Ceríaco and I are all attending the international conference on island biology which is being held the University of the Azores. We are organizing a special symposium on the Gulf of Guinea Islands, and Dr. Lima is leading an afternoon sub-session on conservation. He is the author of a recent article (below) on habitat loss in São Tomé and Príncipe and hopefully the session will lead to a discussion of major ecological issues such as this and blast fishing.

http://www.econotimes.com/Deforestation-an-alert-from-the-islands-of-S%C3%A3o-Tom%C3%A9-and-Pr%C3%ADncipe-180253

Our work has enjoyed the support of the government since Gulf of Guinea I in 2001; one of our good friends, Jose Cassandra, is Regional President of Príncipe.

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Office of Hon. Jose Cassandra (left) with Dr. Maria Jeronimo and myself. A. Stanbridge phot. (GG IX)

Prior to a workshop on green economy by UNESCO, the people of Santo Antonio had a general clean-up of the town. Below are two photos of President “Toze,” helping clean up the Rio Papagaio (Parrot River) that runs through town. Suffice to say, he is a charismatic leader and a good friend.

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Another blog will be forthcoming soon as we prepare for the conference and GG XI in the Fall. It is also time to formulate our primary school education efforts for the coming season.

The parting shot:

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One of our third grade classes! We will visit them and nearly 2000 other primary schoolers during GG XI when they are in the fourth grade.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG IX

PARTNERS:
The research expeditions and the primary school education program are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* We are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. GG VIII and upcoming GG XI have been funded by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, and members of the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118
USA

THE RACE: Homage to “The Prince”

The island of Príncipe is ancient… at 31 million years of age it is twice as old as São Tomé, yet biologically the two islands are unquestionably related. Along with documenting and describing hitherto unknown species of strange, endemic plants and animals that inhabit one or the other island (rarely, both), we attempt to understand the relationships of these species to each other and to their ancestral populations from the African mainland.

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For instance among the striking Príncipe uniques is Leptopelis palmatus, the Príncipe giant tree frog (above). Females of this species attain dimensions such that they are largest tree frog in Africa! Males, first described by us, are usually less than half their length. The original specimen upon which the species description was based over a century ago was a single female of 110mm body length (excluding legs). Like all female frogs, they do not have an advertisement call and despite their great size, very few have been found and reported in the scientific literature.

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(male)

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(female)

A few days ago, Dr. Rayna Bell found the large female pictured above, pressed to the surface of a small flat rock on the ground on a steep, dryish slope in the northwestern part of the island. Females tend to be dark compared to males, but this is the first all-black specimen reported. There are three other tree frog species on the islands, but they are all closely related to each other and belong to a different frog family from the Príncipe giant.

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Dr Bell has shown that these other three are most closely related to a species from the Ogooué and Congo River basins and thus likely of western Central African origin. Other work has shown that the nearest relative of Leptopelis palmatus of Príncipe is from west of the Niger River and thus the giant is  probably of northern (West African) origin, perhaps dispersing from the Niger River drainage..

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Dr. Luis Mendes and Maria Jeronimo have continued to collect butterflies to fill in knowledge gaps with species for Luis’s book. Luis has collected a number of specimens that he cannot readily identify; on these poorly-known islands, this is particularly exciting.

Maria has actually been doing a lot of everything: collecting butterflies with Luis, joining us in the classrooms and going out at night collecting with Dr. Rayna Bell, Lauren Scheinberg and our photographer, Andrew Stanbridge. Considering that this is a “break” from her PhD dissertation work, her energy level is truly impressive.

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Most geckos are nocturnal but the genus Lygodactylus is comprised of strictly daytime species in Africa and Madagascar. Readers may recall that the islands of Annobon, São Tomé and Príncipe are each inhabited by a single endemic species usually distinguishable by different black markings under the chin; other than these markings, the island species are usually a combination of grey and black. Luis Mendes captured an adult male on Príncipe that appears to be in breeding coloration of a sort I have not seen before in this genus. There is one species endemic to a small forest in Tanzania that is a beautiful blue, several others in East Africa that have yellow heads, and one species in Zambia that has a yellow belly. The male collected on Principe has a bright yellow head and the body that is a striking shade of light green. Not only is this the first time I have observed a green individual, I am also unaware of any literature describing temporary (usually hormonal) color intensities associated with breeding activities in this group of lizards.

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Many of the photos we post on social media might well suggest that our work is being carried out in some sort of paradise; in some ways it is exactly that but is by no means easy!

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The work we do here is only possible with the support of local entities; this is especially true on Príncipe. On our first two expeditions years ago we had difficulty finding suitable accommodations (reliable power for our equipment, etc) and logistics; there were not many available vehicles on the island, and we had little access to the really interesting higher elevation areas of the island or more remote southern areas. Since that time, our efficiency has increased hugely due to the generous support of several organizations on the old island. First and foremost is the Office of the Regional President (Tose Cassandra-he is also head of the recently created Principe World Biosphere Reserve, and also Daniel Ramos, head of the Príncipe Obo Natural Park.

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For a number of years, we have been able to stay at Bom Bom Island resort which has also helped with needed transportation, both vehicular and marine. This year we were invited to stay at the new Roça Belo Monte (Africa’s Eden) who also provided transportation and assistance. At one point we planned a boat trip to explore the remote southeastern part of the island but the skipper, Bobby Bronkhorst, of Makaira Lodge fell ill.

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Our work is now also in cooperation with the newly formed Príncipe Trust; the Trust played a major supporting role in the production of this year’s biodiversity bird field guide/coloring book and binoculars! Our biodiversity education efforts were concluded for Gulf of Guinea IX here on the old island with our return to the 3rd grade classes of the same schools we have been visiting since 2011. Usually after class visits, we see 3rd graders out in the bush peering through their new binoculars but frequently backwards! This may well be more fun for them.

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Parting Shot:
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PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-VII expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VIII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

The RACE: SIZE MATTERS!

It is a fundamental tenet of the science of island biogeography that more different species of plants and animals will be found on larger islands than on smaller ones. When we say “larger” in this regard, we really mean surface area. Note that in the graphic illustration below right, both islands have the exactly the same circumference, but the lower island has a mountain in the middle of it which markedly increases any measure of its overall surface area.

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RCD construct.

The greater (and more varied) the surface area, the larger the number of niches for living organisms; hence with time and evolution there will be more living plants on animals on larger islands than smaller (above left). For “niches”, think of “jobs”; every living thing has a three-part job: 1. where it does what it does (spatial niche); when it does what it does (temporal niche) and how it gets its energy (trophic niche). No two living things can overlap on all three and coexist, hence size (area) matters! There are other factors of course, such as geological age and island distance from source, that affect the numbers and characteristics of species found on islands.

Our islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are classic examples of the area/species number relationship. Here are just a few examples:

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Begonia thomeana. T. Daniel phot. — GG

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African butterfly. Photo from  ARKives. Google Images

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New tree frog (Hyperolius) species from Principe Id. A. Stanbridge phot– GG VII.

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African dragonfly.  ARKive phot. Google Images.

The island area effect is even more convincing when the entire archipelago of four islands is included, from the largest (Bioko) to the smallest (Annobón).

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 Lacewing distribution in Gulf of Guinea. Dong Lin phot. GG I; RCD construct.

As one can see, there is an obvious correlation between island size and the number of lacewings present; however in this case it is also important to note that while Bioko is clearly the largest island, it is also geologically youngest and closest to the mainland, having been attached to the mainland multiple times during the Pleistocene. Such factors can have an important effect on these comparisons. While these correlations prove correct over and over again. However this does not mean that very small islands cannot house wonderful biological surprises, and we are learning that this is true in the Gulf of Guinea.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot, GG VII

Above is the Jockey’s Bonnet (or Ilha Caroço) so named for its obvious shape. This large rock is only about 3.5 km off the southeast shore of Príncipe, only 35 hectares in area but perhaps 100 m in height. It was undoubtedly once part of the main island, which readers will recall dates back to the Oligocene Epoch, so it is probably quite old geologically.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

Although small, the Jockey’s Bonnet houses at least two very intriguing species. The population of native oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) on the western shores of this tiny island have obviously been there for a long time as they have begun to accumulate change from the parent species on the main Island, but a few km away! While still clearly the same species, the Jockey’s Bonnet palms bear seeds (fruit) that is at least twice the size of the palms on Príncipe and São Tomé.

Elaeis guineensis

Bonnet oil palm seed. RCD phot. CAS botany specimen

For bird lovers, an even more exciting occurrence on the Jockey’s Bonnet is that of the Bonnet Seed-eater, a small brown passerine bird noticeably different from its relatives only a few kilometers away on Príncipe!

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Bonnet seed-eater. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

These unique birds are heavier, have longer, broader bills and shorter wings than their island neighbors and have been shown to be genetically distinct from them. They are extremely common (some 3,500 individuals at last estimate) and live exclusively in the oil palm forest pictured above. They have a specialized diet of palm oil and palm pollen, and it is tempting to speculate that there might be some relationship driving the evolution of the palms and the birds.

Isolation and evolutionary change within a population of birds separated from their nearest relatives by only 3 km may well seem counter-intuitive; after all, don’t birds fly? The answer is yes they do, but they don’t need to, they often don’t, at least not long distances! Flying is energetically expensive; if the habitat is relatively stable, suitable for survival and reproduction, why leave it? In spite of their ability to fly, most bird species tend to remain in specific kinds of habitats and areas. This is called philopatry.

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Tinhosa Grande.  A. Stanbridge phot. VII

Far to the south of Príncipe (ca. 20 km.) is a fascinating group of small islands known as the Tinhosas. The largest of these is Tinhosa grande (above) with a surface area of but 20.5 ha.

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RCD construct

Geologically the Tinhosas are of great interest because they mark the southernmost limit of the Oligocene Príncipe of over 31 million years ago. As we have noted in earlier blogs, Príncipe was once much, much larger but through millions of years of weathering, largely from the southwest, all that remains are the Tinhosas and Príncipe, along with its other islets. And again, Principe is twice as old as São Tomé.

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RCD phots, GG I and II  (right – bridled tern)

The Tinhosas are important rookeries for some sea birds such as Brown and Black Noddys, the Sooty Tern and Brown Booby and are recognized by Birdlife International as Wetlands of International Importance and official Waterfowl Habitat.

Tinhosa Grande is also inhabited by at least two different kinds of lizards, a skink species and a gecko species. These were observed and photographed by members of a recent ornithological expedition but specimens were not collected. Our colleague, Dr. Luis Ceriaco, of the Natural History Museum in Lisbon discovered that some of these skinks had been collected by a Portuguese expedition and deposited in that museum 45 years ago.

CeriacoDr. Luis Ceriaco with Principe giant tree frog..  phot from Facebook.

After analysis, Luis discovered that the Tinhosa Grande specimens represented a new species which he has described as Trachylepis adamastor. It is a very large skink differing from its nearest relatives in size, scales and coloration.

Tinhosas skink 2 (c) Ross Wanless

Tinhosa skink. (Trachylepis). Ross Wanless phot.

Members of the more recent bird expedition reported to Ceriaco that that the population of these skinks seemed very dense, and Ceriaco later speculated that there might be a trophic relationship between the numerous skinks and the nesting birds. Notice above that the skink is feeding on a recently broken egg (this photo appeared in the paper by L. Cericaco). Such relationships are not unknown.

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Cousin Island. Google images; bridled tern RCD image, Cousin habitat RCD image; Mabuya wrighti James Warwick image)

Cousin Island of the Seychelles Archipelago in the Indian Ocean exhibits a strikingly similar situation that has been well-studied. This small island of 27 hectares supports enormous populations of two species of skinks: Mabuya wrighti, which is large, and Mabuya seychellensis, which is smaller. Studies revealed that in 1979 there were approximately 1,713 individual skinks per hectare, and that these were supported directly by nesting terns (60,000 pairs of Lesser Noddy terns alone) through broken eggs, feces and dropped fish. Such a situation may well exist on Tinhosa Grande.

The Tinhosa gecko remains a mystery. We have no examples of it and cannot examine its morphology or molecular relationships.

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Tinhosa gecko. (Hemidactylus sp.) Photos by Nuno Barros, courtesy, Birdlife Int.

The photos are not of sufficient quality to determine whether this gecko is related to one of the unique island species (H. principensis, H. greeffii) or is a more widespread species.

We are preparing for GG IX in September. More anon.

The parting shot:

parting shot

A 4th grade Sao Tomean student with our biodiversity playing cards. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

 PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-VII expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VIII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

 













The Race: More New Species, More New Science

After a reconnaissance by me in 2000, our island expeditions began with the very first in 2001; there were 12 scientists and their students on GG I, and some of us remained in the islands for over two months. Fieldwork, especially in this island paradise goes quickly but the actual science takes time, and it is heartening that this very first expedition (of eight!) is still yielding results.

There were two arachnologists (spider specialists) on GG I: Dr. Charles Griswold of the Academy and his graduate student Joel Ledford of the University of California, Berkeley (now Dr. Ledford).  Charles and Joel worked on both islands as did we all.

Dr. Joel Ledford, collecting basalt cliffs, Laguna Azul, São Tomé (D.Lin, GG I)

Charles

Dr. Charles Griswold, above Lago Amelia, São Tomé (D. Lin, GG I)

Upon our return to the California Academy of Sciences, Charles and Joel sent some of the spiders they collected on the islands to different experts on various spider groups. Among the spiders sent were members of the Family Pholcidae; these very long-legged creatures are known as “daddy long-legs spiders” or cellar spiders here in the US.

Pholcidae2

 Pholcid spider – Google Images

pholcidae

 Pholcid spider – Google Images

The specimens were sent to Dr. Bernhard A. Huber of the Alexander Koenig Museum of Zoology in Bonn, Germany, who discovered that three samples, two from São Tomé and one from Príncipe were species new to science. He described them as follows:
Leptopholcus obo, named after our natural park, were collected in small pit traps we dug at Macambrara near Bom Sucesso, São Tomé;
Pholcus batepa named after the 1953 massacre site, were collected at 700 m in the aqueduct tunnels of the Contador Valley above Neves, in São Tomé;
and Smeringopus principe, named for the island and collected at a locality along the road from Santo Antonio to Sundy, Príncipe. There will be many more new species described as all of our collections, not just the spiders, are open to biologists around the world. Many have already been on loan for many years.
Readers will rememberthat GG II and GG III were joined by mycologists, Drs. Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry of San Francisco State University. Where only 10-15 species of mushrooms had been described from the islands earlier, these two workers found over 200 species, with about 30% estimated to be new to science.

 

Dennis III

 Prof. Dennis Desjardin, San Francisco State Univerisity (D.Lin, GG. II)

Principe, 2008

Scytinopogon sp.,  a  new species of leatherbeard fungus, Príncipe (Desjardin, GG III)

In modern times the first actual product of scientific research is a formal, peer-reviewed publication in a scientific journal. Some journals are considered more prestigious than others (usually based on their selectivity), and it is considered quite an honor to get the “cover article;” i.e., the article highlighted/illustrated on the cover of the journal in which it occurs.

EVO_69_4_cover.indd

Evolution Volume 69, Number 4, 2115.

A new publication by one of us, Dr. Rayna Bell (GG VI and VII), has just been so honored (above), and also the cover image is a photo by our veteran photographer Andrew Stanbridge (GG V-VIII)! The paper is another on the evolution of three of the islands’ remarkable frog species: the São Tomé giant treefrog and oceanic treefrog, and the Príncipe oceanic treefrog.

 

image 3

 Bell, Drewes and Zamudio. 2015. Evol. 69 (4): 904-915

Using DNA data, Dr. Bell found that the common ancestor of the São Tomé giant tree frog and São Tomé oceanic tree frog originally dispersed from mainland Africa to São Tomé first, where it differentiated into the giant species (H. thomensis) in the higher elevations and the lowland oceanic tree frog (H. molleri). In addition, the common ancestor of the tree frog population on Príncipe came from São Tomé rather than the reverse. This is in contradiction to the “progression rule” that assumes that colonization events (dispersal) usually proceed from an older island to a younger one as in Hawai’i.

Rayna has found that the Príncipe oceanic tree frog has undergone enough genetic change to be recognized as a distinct species from the very similar São Tomé lowland tree frog and that in addition, the lowland species has recently begun to hybridize with the giant tree frog from which it used to be geographically separated. The cause of this has been the upward expansion of agricultural lands into the primary forests of the highlands, bringing the two species closer together.
GG IX will take place in September-October of this year, and in the next blog I will introduce the participants and describe this year’s biodiversity education project.
In the meantime, here is the parting shot:

parting shot

Mesa (from the north), Príncipe . The top is carpeted with virgin, untouched forest.  Our botanists have sampled it only briefly during GG VII. We must return.

 PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-VII expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VIII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

The Race: The Blog Returns with a Science Update

“The Race” has been silent for a while; a sabbatical accompanied by computer glitches at both sites (Wildlifedirect.org; calacademy.org) led to it, but this was not meant to signal a pause in our island work by any means! We will be returning to the islands for two more expeditions later this year.

During the past nine months or so, some important scientific papers have been published by expedition members; these continue to illustrate the unique nature of the island fauna and flora.

Little

Ricka Stoelting (D. Lin phot, GGI)

Ricka Stoelting was on the islands for a solid two months during GG I in 2001. The research she did on the unique Sâo Tomé caecilian was the basis for her MSc degree, and this has just been published; this paper is the first on the population genetics of a caecilian species,  and she has shed light on a number of issues involving this strange Sâo Tomé endemic.

Schisto

(left) Cobra bobo, Schistometopum thomense (A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII); (right) from Stoelting, et al., 2014, PLoS One.

Ricka discovered that there are four distinct populations of the cobra bobo that are genetically different from each other – not different enough to be considered separate species, but different enough to suggest that these populations were isolated from each other in the distant past (recall that evolution is genetic change accumulated in isolation over time). She also found that these different populations were probably separated from each other through major geological changes in the environment. Note (above right) that the western populations (green) and northern populations (red) are associated with volcanic landscapes less than 1 million years old, while the southern populations (blue) are associated with older volcanic soils of about 2.5 million years in age. This suggests that the formerly widespread caecilian species was wiped out to the north by volcanism about 1 million years ago, then later repopulated from the surviving southern population. The yellow population is very young, perhaps only about 36 thousand years. Currently Ricka is pursuing a PhD at the University of Wisconsin.

rl bobo

Dr. Ricardo Lima with caecilian, Schistometopum thomense. (R. Ayres phot. GG. IV)

While on the subject of the endemic Sâo Tomé caecilian, I can report that our colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima (above), just found three  caecilians while climbing the Pico de Sâo Tomé, and one of these establishes an altitude record for this strange worm-like amphibian species at 1504 meters (4,600+ feet).

rayna port

Dr. Rayna Bell on Sao Tome.  (A. Stanbridge phot, GG VI)

Last September, Rayna Bell, a participant on both GG VI and GG VII expeditions, completed her PhD degree at Cornell University; her doctorate was based on her work on the Hyperolius tree frogs of the islands, and the first part of it has just been published.

hyp pub
(left) after Bell, R.C. et al. 2014. Journal of Biogeography. (right). Nearest mainland relative of island Hyperolius tree frogs. (RDC phot)

We knew from earlier work that the two tree frogs of Sâo Tomé were each other’s nearest relatives.  But where did they come from originally?  Dr. Bell’s research indicates that the nearest relative of both the endemic oceanic treefrog and the Sâo Tomé Giant treefrog is a member of a large group of species in West Africa, Hyperolius cinnamomeoventris (above right); in particular, a subset of this group she terms “clade A,” (indicated by green stars above left) appears to share joint ancestry with the island species.

raft
Hypothesized large “riverbank” raft.  (artwork by R.E.Cook)

Her research suggests that the common ancestor of the island treefrogs reached Sâo Tomé first, in a single colonization event, probably by rafting (above). This event likely occurred between 9 and 3.5 million years ago, and the original colonists probably originated from the Ogooué or Congo Rivers. On Sâo Tomé, these original “pioneers” differentiated into a giant highland form (now H. thomensis) and a smaller lowland species. Then, between 1.1 million and 270 thousand years ago, members of the lower elevation species, the oceanic treefrog, Hyperolius molleri dispersed to the much older island of Príncipe, where they again became isolated from the parent population on Sâo Tomé and began to accumulate genetic change (“speciation”). A second scientific paper by Dr. Bell on these species and their evolution on the Gulf of Guinea Islands is due out soon.

The status of the Sâo Tomé shrew (Crocidura thomensis) has been somewhat problematic, for scientists at least. Shrews are very poor overwater dispersers, and since it is possible for the shrew to have been transported from the mainland by man fairly recently, there have been questions about its validity as a true endemic species. Did it reach Sâo Tomé by natural means?  This strange insectivore was recorded only nine times after its original description in 1887 and until recently, it has also been considered quite rare. (Someone should have asked the locals!)

Lima shrew
The Sâo Tomé  shrew (phot. Dr. Mariana Carvalho).  (left) Dr. Ricardo F. de Lima.

In a recent publication, (below) our colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima has added twenty-three new locality records for this fascinating creature, indicating that it is not rare. It has just been overlooked. An excellent ecologist, de Lima has assessed the conservation status of this important species.  Moreover, he and his colleagues have provided tissue so that we have been able to examine its DNA to determine whether or not it arrived on the island by natural means or was more recently brought by man. It appears to be a true endemic species (to be reported in a future publication), and as such it is the only non-flying endemic mammal species on the island of Sâo Tomé.

de Lima et al
From de Lima, R.F., et al]. 2015 Fauna & Flora International. Oryx. Grey dots denote localities known in 1996. Black dots are new localities.

During GG II (2006), we collected two shrew new-borns on the island of Príncipe which at the time we assumed were a mainland species, Crocidura poensis. Dr. Luis Ceriaco, who is now an adjunct member of our CAS faculty, subsequently obtained many more adult individuals on the island (it is much more common than C. thomensis) and surprisingly this species is also new and endemic.

ceriaco A
From Ceriaco, et al. 2015. Mammalia

Dr. Ceriaco has just formally described it as Crocidura fingui, its name in the local Creole. So the only non-flying endemic mammals in the Republic of Sâo Tomé and Príncipe are shrews! I do not think any biogeographer would have predicted this (see August 2010 blog: the “Magic of Molecules).

Here’s the parting shot:

sand dollar
Rotula deciesdigitatus, one of the rarest sand dollars in the world; in the islands, known principally from Praia Morrao, west coast of Sao Tome. (Weckerphoto, GG III)
PARTNERS

We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-VII expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VIII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

THE RACE: GULF OF GUINEA VIII NEARS COMPLETION

Our eighth expedition has been a very different one; except for GG V this has been our only all-education mission.  Readers will recall that our biodiversity awareness program began in 2010 when we assessed the curriculum for biology in school across both islands. Then we began annual distribution of educational materials to a cohort of 2,000 third graders in widely separated schools on both islands.  These kids are now in the fifth grade and will move on to different schools next year, so this has been our last meeting with them.

Below are a series of images of our activities over the past three weeks; most are by our indomitable and brilliant photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, who returned to Europe a couple of days ago.  I, Velma Schnoll, our Education Project Director and Roberta Ayres, our Senior Science Educator, remain to finish GG VIII.

RD RA and TozeOur yearly meeting with Hon. Pres. Jose Cassandra of Principe. Filling him in on our activities in the schools.

PresentersIn each classroom we make a standard presentation of our materials and explain their meaning; in this case the biodiversity booklets.

RA in ClassRoberta Ayres, Senior Science Educator, describing the book in Portuguese.

VS pass out booksVelma Schnoll, Education Project Manager, handing out booklets to students.

Students readThis year we asked the teachers to choose two students to read selected passages from the booklet to the rest of the class.

Student 4 

Students 8Some of these classrooms are really crowded.

P WorkshopOn Saturday, April 12, we gave a public lecture/teacher workshop on the more advanced concepts behind the biodiversity booklet. There were over 55 in attendance, including the President and the Secretary of Education for Principe.

P TV InterviewUsually after large presentations we are interviewed by the local television stations and these always appear a day or two later on the six o’clock news!

Poster still up 1A continuing joy to us is to find our materials presented in years past. We brought these posters in 2011 on GGV. We think their continued presence and use are a testimony to the effectiveness of our program.

RdS and studentsRoberta Dos Santos of StepUp, Education Liaison.

IMG_0839Quintino Quade of StepUp, Education Liaison. Without strong support of Sao Tomeans like Quintino and Roberta since the very beginning in 2000, we would not have been able to carry on the Gulf of Guinea Expeditions. Here, Quintino and I are presenting to a classroom in Sao Tome a few days ago.

Here’s the parting shot.

Students 7Taking the message home.

 PARTNERS
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: Another New Species and Contributions from our Citizen Scientists

Colleagues in London, Drs. Simaikis and Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum, have just published a paper on centipedes that includes some very old specimens from São Tomé and Príncipe collected as early as the 1930’s.  Among the material, they discovered a new. presumably endemic species.

both Otostigmus

Meet Otostigmus coltellus (left), from Zootaxa 3734 (2013). For scientific purposes, only the parts of the animal that are important for identification are published; the photo on the right  (RCD phot – GG II) may or may not be an Otostigmus but it would look something like this.  I am told they are difficult to identify unless you look at underparts, but as all islanders know, these centopéias can deliver a painful, sometimes dangerous bite.  So far, the new O. coltellus is known only from Ilheu Rolas and Zampalma on São Tomé; it and O. productus are considered unique to the islands, while the two large reddish species of Scolopendra (see below) found on both islands are probably introduced. This means that the centipedes of São Tomé and Príncipe are 50% unique (endemic).

Scolopendra dL GGI

Scolopendra subspinipes feeding on slug (D. Lin phot.  GG I

More and more islanders on São Tomé and Príncipe are posting images of strange island creatures on the internet. For instance, in my last blog I was able to include photos taken by the staff of Praia Inhame of the largest reptile in the world, the leatherback sea turtle.

Manta Mobula  Praia San Paulo Sao Tome nr airport 1 of 6 poss.spp

Mobula, a large manta ray on Praia San Paolo, near airport, Sao Tome.  unknown phot.

Another example is this huge manta ray which was caught off Praia San Paolo near the airport last year.  This could be one of six different manta species of the genus Mobula that occur in this part of the Atlantic.  In these cases, we do not know who took the pictures, but we can still respond with identifications.

Still others are sending us pictures of animals and plants directly for identification; we call these people “citizen scientists,” and we hope our continuing expeditions and education programs are having something to do with this.

Estrela Matilde R and D

Estrela Matilde lives on Príncipe Island and works as Supervisor for HBD Agricultural Operations.  Recently a fisherman brought her the strange creature figured below:

red sliper lobster

 Scyllarides herklotsii  E. Matilde phot

I took the photo to some of my colleagues at the Academy who identified it as a red slipper lobster, and we were able to send Estrela the information below.

red slip lbstr page

1991 FAO species catalog. Vol. 13

We have received some very interesting photos From São Tomé Island, over the past few years but most recently from Ponta Figo.

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina are the proprietors of Mucumbli Ponta Figo, a restaurant/guest resort in the northwest of the big  island. Tiziano is evidently very fond of African civets (Civetticus civetta) and has had several as pets. One that now lives in the garden is 14 years old, but he has a new pup as well.

14yr old civet

Tiziano’s 14 year old Civet

baby civet

Tiziano’s latest pet.

African civets are widespread on the African mainland (I have seen many). They are the largest members of the mongoose family, Viverridae, but are not native to the islands.  It is said they were introduced to control rodents about 100 years ago. They are largely nocturnal and eat virtually anything.

But the most intriguing photos the Mucumbli people sent me were of some mushrooms they found a month or so ago.

Readers will recall that before we began our expeditions, fewer than 15 species were known from São Tomé, and Príncipe had never been sampled.  We now have 225 species;, over 30% are apparently new to science.  I immediately sent the Mucumbli shots to Dr. Dennis Desjardin, an outstanding  mycologist and veteran of two Gulf of Guinea expeditions.

Mucumbuli mushrooms

Ponta Figo boletes- Mucumbli phot

Mucumbli botetes

Ponta Figo boletes-Mucumbli phot

Dennis immediately identified the mushrooms as boletes, a rather general term largely referring to their shape.  He could not identify them without actually having them in hand but did say that we have never collected this species, and they may well be the first ectomycorrhizal fungus for São Tomé!  This term refers to the symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants, such as conifers, beeches, or orchids; this relationship is found among a number of mushroom groups, and frequently the association is with particular species of plants or trees. We had already discovered two genera of ectomycorrhizal fungi on Principe (see below) but so far none confirmed from the big island.

Ramaria

Ramaria sp. from Principe Desjardin phot – GG III

Amanita Principe

Principe Amanita sp. Desjardin phot GG III

Clearly, we need to get some samples of the Ponta Figo mushrooms.

Back on Principe, Marnie Saidi of Santo Antonio is our champion citizen scientist so far.

Marnie Saidi

Marnie and her partner Hassan own and operate a construction business in Santo Antonio, Principe.  She has participated in a number of our biodiversity education projects in schools on the smaller island and has become quite the naturalist.
The garden behind her house is nothing special (see below) but the creatures that visit her every year are quite surprising.

Marnies backyard

Saidi phot, 2013

Last year, Marnie caught a number of large beetles on her property and actually put them in the freezer for me to await our return last April. They are still being identified, but the photo below is a long-horned beetle, of the Family Cerambycidae. Note Marnie’s green fingernails, offered as scale.

cerambycid

Principe long-horned beetle. Saidi phot, 2012

Below is an image from the internet to show what a long-horned beetle looks like when it is not in a jar-this is a much smaller individual.

Alexandr Novas

Alexandr Novas phot. from internet

Marnie’s catches of long-horned beetles are particularly notable as so far as we know, 40% of the species of this group are found nowhere else but São Tomé and Príncipe.  Below is another of Marnie’s beetles, which we now have here at the Academy.  It has been tentatively identified by our entomologists as a dynastine scarab.

dynastine scarab

Principe dynastine scarab- Saidi phot 2012

Since we returned, Marnie has sent us a number of intriguing images of her strange visitors. The next email was the photo below, actually I think it is two different images of the same spider.

MARNIES SPIDERS

Giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria. Saidi phot. 2013

Dr. Charles Griswold, one of my colleagues here at the Academy identified this as a giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria; these are widespread on the mainland and not unsuspected to be present on Príncipe.  They are frequently welcomed into homes, as they eat large numbers of insect pests. Marnie then sent a photo of a beautiful green moth.

Geometrid Thalassa quadraria

Green moth, Thalassa quadraria (Geometridae) Saidi phot 2013

This was kindly identified by my friend Dr. Luis F. Mendes of the Institute for Tropical Science Research in Lisbon.  Although, he is a butterfly specialist who has just published a paper on the butterflies of the islands, he is sure that this green moth is a new record for Principe!

During the past few weeks, Marnie has been visited by two of the three unique frog species on the small island.

both leptos

Male Leptopelis palmatus, the Principe Giant Tree Frog.  Saidi phot. 2013

This is a male of the Principe giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus.  Photos of this species have appeared in this blog many times. The males can be many different colors, but the females are usually dull green; the eyes of both species are always bright red. According to the tenets of biogeography, there should be no frogs at all on the islands, as there has never been a connection with the mainland!  What is spectacular about this particular species is that the females are the largest of all African tree frogs (up to 110 mm)! It is the only island amphibian species whose tadpoles (aquatic larvae) we have never found and described.

Marnie hyperolius

Oceanic tree frog,  Hyperolius molleri. Saidi phot. 2013

Marnie was most recently visited by an Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius molleri. Until very recently, we thought this species was the only one that occurs on both São Tomé and Príncipe, but very recent evidence hints that the two populations may be different. We are working on it.

As you can see, observations by islanders, Citizen Scientists, are of great value to us and the world of science.  We are busy identifying  specimens and planning our next expeditions; perhaps a short educational one in the Spring, and another full-fledged one in early 2015.

Here’s the parting shot:

Tose

Regional President Hon. Jose Cassandra hoists aloft the certificate designating Principe Island a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve!

PARTNERS

We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: GG VII Potpourri and the World’s Largest Reptile

Much has happened since my last post from the islands a couple of months ago which accounts for the tardiness of this one. However, Rayna Bell, our Cornell PhD candidate did manage to post two videos via National Geographic while we were on the islands.

I was invited to speak in TEDxSão Tomé, a great honor, and so returned in mid-June.  Readers should know that there is but one TAP flight to the islands per week via Lisbon so this is no small undertaking especially for a single lecture.  TEDx was a wonderful experience, and I was able to meet with some the brightest young people from the islands and to “spread the biodiversity word” internationally as well.

tedx poster

me at tedx

In the meantime, back at the Academy, we have been assessing the results of our fieldwork on GG VII; below is an image of the 2013 team, along with some of our best local friends.

Team 7

The tall Sao Tomean in the back row, and the woman on the far right are Quintino Quade and Roberta dos Santos, respectively; the gentleman in the wheelchair is Ned Seligman. All three work for an NGO called STeP UP which has interacted closely with our CAS teams since the very beginning, especially with our biodiversity education efforts.

saotome_poster small

The on-going project was recently presented and summarized at international meetings in New Orleans by Dr. Tom Daniel, our senior botanist. Courtesy Charlotte Pfeiffer, CAS.

 

Shortly after returning, I learned from two colleagues here at CAS, entomologists Dr. Paco Hita Garcia and Georg Fischer, that they had described a new ant species from Sao Tome back in 2010, but somehow forgotten to tell me! The members of GG I collected these along the trail from Bom Successo and Lagoa Amelia  over 12 years ago!

Tetramorium renae

Tetramorium renae, Photo by CAS Project Lab.

Miko Nadel, our lichenologist, has narrowed the focus of his MA dissertation to the fruticose lichens of the genus Usnea which are found at higher elevations on the islands. He ascended Pico Príncipe, and readers will recall that he was part of the team that ascended Pico do São Tomé during GG VI.  He now has over 600 collections upon which to base the first survey of this group in the islands.

Usnea  NM phot

Usnea sp. M.Nadel phot. GG VII, Principe Id.

Miko’s major advisor at San Francisco State University is Dr. Dennis Desjardin, a world authority on mushrooms and veteran of GG II and III. The blog of a year ago (April: Mountains that Glow) featured Miko’s discovery of tiny glowing mushrooms on Pico Sao Tome and later, glowing mycelium (threadlike plant body of fungi) covering steep hillsides at around 1100 meters. This year our photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, returned to Macambrara, the second locality, and discovered larger whole mushrooms that glow, not just the vegetative bodies. The two images below are of the same unidentified mushrooms in daylight and at night.

3X6A4358 AS

 

3X6A4368as

A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII, Macambrara, Sao Tome.

Rayna Bell reports from Cornell: we have very strong evidence now that the two species [São Tomé giant treefrog and Oceanic treefrog] are hybridizing [on São Tomé] (individuals of intermediate size/color and lots of molecular data to back that up), and now the question is whether they have always exchanged migrants and still diverged in body size, coloration, and breeding site (divergence with geneflow) or if they were isolated in the past and have recently come back in to contact (allopatric speciation). Just as exciting is that Rayna has discovered that the Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius molleri (right below), that has long been thought to occur on both islands, does not; i.e., although very similar to each other morphologically, the two island populations are very different genetically, contradicting earlier molecular work by one of my interns years ago! Rayna and one of her undergraduate students just published their GG VI findings of chytrid fungus on the Sao Tome Cobra bobo; this is only the second published incidence of the fungus on a caecilian species.

Rayna 2

Rayna Bell (r), Hyperolius molleri (l). phots by A. Stanbridge, GG VII

Dr. Tamas Szuts, our Hungarian spider expert, was able to make great collections of salticids (jumping spiders) and orb weavers (Araneidae). Tamas was particularly excited about his collections of the genus Pochyta (below), a problematic group within the family.

Pochyta

Pochyta sp. Phot. T. Szuts, GG VII

Many of Tamas’s specimens are still being identified, but he writes: I also made some interesting observations about their [Pochyta] life history: a specimen had camped on a leaf just above a Phallus muchroom which attracted some small flies. [The] specimen was observed to jump several times toward the flying or landing targets, and then climbing back onto the leaf with the aid of its dragline.
Tamas took the remarkable photos below.

salti 1a

 

salti 2b

T. Szuts photos. GG VII

Finally, since we returned in May I have received several remarkable photographs of leatherback sea turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, one of four species that nest on the beaches of São Tomé and Príncipe. In terms of mass, this is the largest reptile in the world. The largest female on record was 915 kg (just under 1 ton, and close to 3 meters long (9.8 feet)!

leatherback  Sao Tome 1998
Massive female Leatherback; unknown photographer, East coast of Sao Tome, 1998, courtesy of Liv Larsson

Praia Inhame 2

Praia Inhame, São Tomé 2013; unknown photographer

 

Same turtle, Praia Inhame, São Tomé 2013; unknown photographer

There is much, much more which I will report in late September. Until then, here’s the parting shot:

P from Jockey's Bonnet

Southeast view of Príncipe Island from the Jockey’s Bonnet.  A. Stanbridge GG VII

PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII has been funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: Principe Island–A New World Biosphere Reserve!!

During GG VII, just completed, a rather remarkable thing happened which readers should know about. I will write a wrap-up of Gulf of Guinea VII next month, but in the meantime I want to talk about Príncipe Island in general and what has just happened there.

P eddie Herbst

Photo by Eddie Herbst.

Readers will already know that this blog is about our 13 years of biodiversity work in the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. The latter island is about twice as old as the former, at 31 million years. It is much, much smaller, but when it first arose volcanically from the ocean floor it was nearly four times the current combined area of both islands today.

Latest working GofG
RCD construct, Google Earth.

Príncipe’s great age is responsible for its remarkable appearance, a landscape punctuated by ancient steep volcanic plugs and a mesa, mostly made up of a rather rare rock known as phonolite.

Princiep andrew GG VI

Andrew Stanbridge phot.  GG VI

Isolated for so many millions of years, it also harbors a large number of unique plants and animals we call endemics; organisms that have arrived on the islands by random dispersal, established colonizing populations that have accumulated genetic change over deep time, so that they are no longer the same as their ancestors on the mainland.  An endemic species is one that is found only in one place, nowhere else.

P endemics

Principe endemics. D. Lin, Weckerphoto

All of the species above are unique to Príncipe Island and nowhere else in the world.  There are many more not pictured, but fewer than on São Tomé because that island is much larger, thus more niches. Virtually every one of our expeditions has turned up new, undescribed species from both islands as they remain incompletely known. Our work on these islands has been ongoing for 13 years and has included over 40 scientists of different disciplines and their graduate students.
A year or so, I was contacted by scientists from Madeira to provide information in support of an application to have Príncipe Island established as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
UNESCO defines World Biosphere Reserves thus:
Biosphere reserves are sites established by countries and recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. As places that seek to reconcile conservation of biological and cultural diversity and economic and social development through partnerships between people and nature, they are ideal to test and demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainable development from local to international scales.
Biosphere reserves are thus globally considered as:
•    sites of excellence where new and optimal practices to manage nature and human activities are tested and demonstrated;
•    tools to help countries implement the results of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and, in particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Ecosystem Approach;
•    learning sites for the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development.
I was delighted to supply supportive lists of floral and faunal species and photographs to illustrate the uniqueness of Príncipe, as this would be a wonderful opportunity  for this tiny island with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.  Although I never received a copy of the completed application, I learned some months ago that the application had been successful, and that Príncipe Island had indeed become a new  World Biosphere Reserve!!
What I did not anticipate was that I and my team would be on the island at the same time as the formal presentation. We were invited to the ceremony,  Saturday the 4th of May, by Regional President Jose Cardosa Cassandra himself during our annual meeting, and at the same time he asked if I would serve on his Scientific Advisory Council, a great honor and responsibility.

IMG_3090

President Cassandra receives the World Biosphere Reserve document from Prime Minister Gabriel Costa. V. Schnoll phot

Toze

Photo by E. Mathilde

IMG_3098

Later, during his speech, President Cassandra acknowledged both me and the California Academy of Sciences by name, as having provided much of the biological ground work for the successful application.  He asked that I stand and be recognized… it was a unique moment, and even more so when the Prime Minister did the same in the next speech! V. Schnoll phot

IMG_3119
After the formal presentation which included around 250 people, there was a series of panel discussions, in which we took part. The rather odd configuration of Velma Schnoll’s photo above is because President Cassandra insisted that Roberta Ayres (our senior educator on the CAS team) translate for me. Roberta is short, I am tall.

 

IMG_3121

Finally Velma took a group picture. This includes the REDBIOS committee that originally submitted the Biosphere application; on the left is our old friend Arlindo Carvalho, Director General of the Environment He authorizes our research on the islands. Just to the left of the certificate is Regional President Jose Cassandra, and please note that he has put one of our CAS expedition patches on his shirt! To the right of the certificate is the UNESCO representative, and to my right is Dr. Antonio Abreu, whose people first contacted us for the biological information for the application.  Phot. V Schnoll, GG VII

To say that this was a great and joyful day would be an understatement.  We know that our science is importance, and we can see that our Biodiversity Education project is making a difference tremendous with the kids.  But to have contributed to an event of global magnitude for this wonderful island country makes me and I am sure all who have joined me on these many Gulf of Guinea Expeditions very proud.

The next blog will be a summary of what we think we accomplished on GG VII.
The Parting Shot is a teaser:

The Parting shot:

 

Tom

Dr. Tom Daniel with what we think is Principe’s only endemic plant genus, hitherto known only from one specimen.
PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII has been funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”