Category Archives: fish

The Race: GG IV – Return to Paradise

Having just returned from Ethiopia, I am now “gearing up” for GG IV.  If all goes well, we will be returning to the islands on the 19th of February for a month, thanks especially to continuing logistical support from our partner, Africa’s Eden (SCD), and the generosity of friends (see Partners below).

GG IV will be one of the smaller expeditions (four of us), due in part to financial constraints, but also because I have a particular, non-exploration focus in mind.  But first the GG IV players:

Dr. Tom Daniel, is returning with us; as I mentioned in the last blog, he has just published a major paper on the island shrimp plants (his specialty) and along with more botanical exploring will be doing some technical pollination studies this time.

Dr. Tom Daniel on Sao Tome. RCD phot, GG III

Among our plans is a survey of the top of Pico do São Tomé which is at about 2000 m.  None our previous expedition members has ever sampled the Pico so everything will be of interest, but our one of our special goals is to collect examples of Afrocarpus mannii, which is endemic to this mountain.

Afrocarpus mannii  WWW. photo

This tree is a member of the yellow wood family (Podocarpaceae), and it is thought that all of its nearest relatives are found thousands of kilometers away in the East African highlands.

Distribution of Afrocarpus relatives. RCD construct.

This strange distribution pattern is showing up rather frequently in the various sorts of organisms we study (for instance, my frogs and reptiles) so we are always interested in testing these relationships using DNA technology; i.e., if these species are really closest relatives, what are they doing thousands of kilometers apart?

Dr. Shevock in Yunnan, China. Phot. D. Long – 2007

This is Dr. Jim Shevock, who recently joined the Academy faculty.  Jim is one of the world’s foremost authorities on mosses. His latest book came out only a few weeks ago.

California Mosses. 2009. Micro-optics, New Zealand

Jim will be conducting the first comprehensive moss survey of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Dr. Shevock drying moss specimens.  Phot. A. Colwell, 2009

Recall that when our expeditions began back in 2001, there were only four species of mushrooms known from the islands; as a result of GG II and III, Drs. Desjardin and Perry have identified some 225 species, including new ones.  Phallus drewesii, an endemic to São Tomé, was just described in August.  I have a strong suspicion that Jim Shevock is going to come up with similar surprises.

The other critter work will include hooking up with Jose Lima to obtain more shrew specimens and to find and identify the mysterious Charroco, the fish we missed on earlier expeditions and which is thus absent from the islands  list.  Jose is doing the research for his PhD with the University of Lancaster. Jose “rediscovered” the supposedly rare, possibly endemic São Tomé shrew, Crocidura thomensis.  It is certainly not rare; as so often is the case, one just has to know where to look. Ricardo does.  We have permission to collect a few and test their tissues to see if they are in fact true endemics, or whether they were brought to the islands via human activity.

“Cobra bobo” endemic to São Tomé.  Phot. J. Juste

You will recognize this as the flamboyant caecilian, Schistometopum thomense or “cobra bobo,” known only from São Tomé.  The photo was taken many years ago by my friend and colleague, Dr. Javier Juste of the Doñana Institute in Seville in Spain. Javier thinks he may actually have taken this photo on São Tomé, but he is sure that he has seen caecilians on Príncipe Id!  This would be most exciting, and of course we will be looking for it.

And now that we have found a myriapod (millipede) expert, Dr. Rowland Shelley of the North Carolina State Museum (see November post), we will be collecting these critters as well, and I have no doubt that this group will turn out to be as poorly known as the others…. More surprises in store.

A myriapod (millipede). www phot.

Now for the special focus.  I have long thought that the citizens of the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe need to be aware how absolutely unique and special their islands really are.  My groups of scientists and I can continue to explore and conduct research and make neat scientific discoveries.  We can continue to publish scientific papers, and we even add Portuguese abstracts.  But while this is great for “Science”, the majority of Tomeans will never see these papers. This popular blog has been an attempt to “spread the word”, but the vast majority of the people there do not read English, and most certainly do not have computers.  What good does all of our work and discoveries do if the citizens who live there are remain unaware of how special their islands are?  For example, Martim Melo, an outstanding ornithologist and expert on the birds fauna of the islands has just established the fact that the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, together, have the highest concentration of endemic bird species in the world!  I doubt if anyone on the islands knows this fact, and think of what such a statement might mean to tourism!  The people should know and be proud of the unique nature of their nation, especially because they will have hard decisions to make in the future, if and when the oil revenues come… that is why this blog is called the Island Biodiversity Race (go back to the first two postings, if you need to) – there is a real urgency to what we are doing.

So above and beyond our usual critter searches, I am going to spend a significant part of our time during GG IV meeting with various people who are involved in appropriate government ministries, education, tourism and the environment,  in order to come up with ideas for a multi-level educational program.  We hope to learn what the citizens want and need in this regard.  This is where the fourth member of GG IV comes in: Mrs. Roberta Ayres.

Roberta Ayres (left) in the Naturalist Center, CAS.  RCD phot. 2010

Roberta is Manager and Senior Educator of the Naturalist Center, which is a major part of the Koret-Taub Education Center of the Academy.  Roberta has a Master’s degree in science education and, having been born in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese.  Together, Roberta and I hope to learn how we can raise biodiversity awareness on the islands through our meetings and interviews with its citizens.

The California Academy of Sciences Naturalist Center. RCD phot. 2010

Barring technical or other problems, I plan to keep blogging from the islands.

The parting shot:

“Island Tranquility”- Laguna Azul, on Sao Tome. D. Lin phot. GGII

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, 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 and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible.

The Race: New Fish Excitement

Our colleague, Ricardo Lima, currently working on São Tomé has sent us another exciting photo; not of another São Tomé shrew this time, but of a large fish that we somehow missed during the island river surveys of GG I and GG II.

Led by Dr. Tomio Iwamoto, we surveyed all of the major rivers on both São Tomé and Príncipe in 2001 and 2006.  As a result, Drs. Iwamoto and Petzold published a paper on the freshwater gobies of the islands, and later Dr. Iwamoto was one of the authors of the updated Checklist of Coastal Fishes of São Tomé and Príncipe Islands. This checklist is based on a great deal of our expedition material.  Regardless, the fish that Ricardo has photographed was not included in either work and at the moment we have no idea to which species it belongs.

Charroco”  R. Lima phot.  2009.

Quintino Quade  and Dr. Iwamoto on Sao Tome. D. Lin phot.  GG I 

It is a fairly large fish and well-known by the local Sao Tomeans as “charroco ”  Ricardo tells us, “I was told by an old man that lives in S. Jose (Binda), that he used to fish these upstream. But this photo is from the other [east] side of the island, near EMOLVE, the big oil palm plantation! I’m not sure where they got the animal, but I think it’s widespread, and according to the people who fish them, it lives in holes under the rocks. The specimen I photographed is not very big for the species. According to them, it can get much bigger, but they eat even the small ones, deep fried!”

Tomio and Drewes on Principe.  D. Lin phot. GGI

Dr. Iwamoto has sent Ricardo’s photo to two other experts, Dr. Lynne Parenti of the US National Museum and Dr. David Greenfield of Monterey, California, and both agree that  this is probably a member of the Family Eleotridae, or “sleeper gobies”.  During our surveys, we caught other species of this family, one of which is pictured below; but at the moment, we seem to have another unidentified species from the Gulf of Guinea and will have to work to obtain more material and identify it.

A Sao Tome eleotrid fish. RCD phot. GG I

The Parting Shot:

A beach on north Principe. R. Wenk phot. GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Bardero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, and the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami for helping make these expeditions possible.

The Race: Return of the Marines!

 This is a brief update on the return of our people last weekend from Gulf of Guinea III (B). They were the marine component of the 2008-2009 expeditions (see Send in the Marines).  The focus of four of the group was the waters of Príncipe, the much older of the two islands.  The two fish people, Dr. John McCosker and David Catania went a week earlier to dive in São Tomé; neither had been to the islands before, and much of our earlier fish work was freshwater in nature. After the second group of four arrived, the whole expedition flew to Príncipe courtesy of SCD, one of our main sponsors (see “Partners,” below).   

As I posted earlier, our first nudibranch (sea slugs) specialist, Dr. Marta Pola-Perez, was on the GG III (B) expedition.  Below are photos of a few of the critters she found.

A possible new species of Phidiana, Principe. Pola-Perez phot. GG III

Flabelina arveloi, Principe.  Pola-Perez phot. GG III

 

Hypselodoris bilineata, Principe. Pola-Perez phot. GG III

As I wrote before, Dr. Bob Van Syoc, his graduate student, Dana Carrison and Dr. Gary Williams are looking at corals and barnacles and the association between the two life forms.  Dana’s dissertation topic concerns the relationship between what we think is a new species of barnacle and one of Gary’s octocorals (sea fans). 

  

A Sao Tome sea fan (Eunicella). G. Williams phot. GG III

This group did quite well on Príncipe; Bob and Dana collected a barnacle species previously known only from the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, Megabalanus azoricus, thus adding to the island diversity list.  Gary thinks he has now collected more species of octocorals in São Tomé and Príncipe than are found on the Galapagos Islands. 

 

Grad student, Dana Carrison, with sea fan on Principe. B. Van Syoc phot. GG III

 Dana, Gary Williams and John McCosker, Principe. B. Van Syoc phot. GG III

Of particular interest is that Bob found a species of shore barnacle at Bom Bom on Príncipe otherwise known only from South Africa. He thinks it was probably brought in by barge carrying building supplies.  So far it seems to be confined to the vicinity of the Bom Bom pier. 

 

Bom Bom pier at night, Principe. Weckerphoto GGIII

John and Dave also well.  Although they said the diving was “spotty” they did manage to sample a bunch of neat stuff, including at least one definite new species. 

A new species of Serranus from both islands.  D. Catania phot. GG III 

Ichthyologists frequently find new species just by exploring fish markets.  Below is a pot of jacks for sale which John and Dave cannot identify to species.  They will need to compare the DNA of these fishmarket critters with other known species in the genus.

Unidentified species of Caranx in the fishmarket.  J. McCosker phot. GG III

As I have written before, another way for ichthyologists to sample the marine fauna is to get permission to buy odd specimens directly from beach seiners.

 

 Sao Tome beach seine. J. McCosker phot. GG III] 

This group was fishing in the bay near Omali Lodge (Marlin Beach Hotel), and like Dr. Iwamoto did during GG I,  John and Dave dealt directly with the seiners for unique specimens.  Detirmining the identity of all of this material takes a great deal of time, but for now it looks as though the Marines of GG III (B) did quite well. 

I received some great news while the group was gone. Recall that I mentioned the marine group was going to collect some freshwater prawns for DNA work in a project by high school student Alex Kim in Virginia.  Well, the group got the prawns and by now they are back east being investigated by Alex and his mentor from George Mason University, Prof. Patrick Gillevet.  But the great news is that Alex is one of 40 finalists in the INTEL SCIENCE TALENT SEARCH; his project and scholarship are obviously gaining recognition, and we at the Academy are proud to be able to help out.

Alex has his own website: http://amphidrome.wordpress.com/  

Here’s the parting shot:  

  

Growing up on Principe. R. Wenk photo. GG III 

PARTNERS We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement  (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Bardero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, and the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami for helping make these expeditions possible.        

The Race: Send in the Marines!

Having read my previous blogs, you might have the impression that all of our efforts of discovery on these unique islands are limited to the high forests and other habitats of the terrestrial environment, and that most of the neat unknown and undescribed stuff is to be found on land.  Such is definitely not the case.  The marine and freshwater realms have not escaped our attention, and they probably contain as many biological mysteries as the land does, maybe more.  Let’s not forget that the inshore marine communities, just like the aerial parts of the islands, have been isolated for millions of years. 

 M. Campbell (Willamette Univ.) and Dr. Iwamoto on Sao Tome GG II (Photo. RCD)

The offshore fisheries of São Tomé and Príncipe are very rich but poorly protected; I have been told that the government cannot afford to monitor the trawling of other countries within their exclusive economic zone, and this is a tragedy not only for economic reasons. The fact is that we still do not fully understand the inshore marine fauna of this unique archipelago.

Tomio off  the Jockey’s Bonnet, Principe. GGII (Photo RCD) 

Dr. Tomio Iwamoto, chair of the CAS Ichthyology Department was a member of both GG I and GG II.  Much of his work in 2001 and 2006 involved sampling the many freshwater rivers of both islands (which I will describe later); but he made some of his most interesting discoveries simply by interacting with the local fishermen.  

 

Fisherman way offshore, Principe. GG I (RCD Photo).

Fishermen off Ilhéu das Cabras, Sao Tome.  GGII (photo: R. Van Syoc)

For instance one day during GG I , Tomio and I watched a group of fishermen seining from Praia Lagarto on the northwest cove of São Tomé island.  Tomio asked them if he could examine their catch and discovered several species of fish not known to occur in São Tomé and Príncipe. He bought them from the fishermen on the spot and preserved them as specimens.

 [Beach seining, Sao Tome.   GGI (RCD photo)

 Each day in the afternoon , the fishing boats arrive on the beach of Baia de Ana Chavez, directly adjacent to the central market of São Tomé city. Many of the city’s citizens flock to the beach to buy directly from the fishermen.  

Arrival of the fishing fleet.  GG I (J. Ledford phot) 

 

  Buying directly off the boats. GG I (J. Ledford phot.)

 We discovered that the fishermen would allow us to examine the contents of their nets while they were sorting through their catch for sale and would sell us whatever we wanted.  Tomio employed the same “field technique” on Príncipe during in 2006 and as a result, he was able to add more than sixteen species of marine fishes to the current list of species known from the islands! 

 

 Tomio heads for the beach and the boats.  GG I (J. Ledford phot.)

 In 2006 (GG II), the team was joined by Drs. Gary Williams and Robert Van Syoc, both of the Academy’s  Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology.  Bob is a specialist on the world’s barnacles and Gary is one of the foremost authorities on various groups of corals. Together the two surveyed the waters of São Tomé with the expert help of Jean-Luis Testori, owner, divemaster and skipper of Club Maxel on the big island.  

Dr. Gary Williams. GG II B Van Syoc photo) 

 

[Gary (left) and Jean-Luis collecting, Sao Tome.  GGII (B.Van Syoc phot.)

Eunicella, a sea fan of Sao Tome.  GG II (B. Van Syoc phot.)

Gary collected twelve species of octocorals including eleven sea fans, also known as gorgonians; all of these species are endemic to the eastern tropical Atlantic.  At the same time, Bob Van Syoc made a synoptic survey of the São Tomé barnacles.  All of the barnacle species so far identified are known from oceanic islands (see the first blog on oceanic vs continental islands), none of the intertidal genera or species commonly associated with continental shores have been found on Sao Tome.  Bob and Gary will return to São Tomé and Príncipe on GG III(B) in January, 2009 and both are eager to sample and compare the same kinds of organisms inhabiting the much older inshore marine communities of Príncipe. 

 

Dr. Bob Van Syoc, barnacle specialist (R. Van Syoc phot!)

Stony coral with barnacle (arrow) Sao Tome.  GG II (B. Van Syoc phot)

One of the most exciting events during GG II was the discovery by Bob of what appears to be an undescribed species of barnacle of the genus Conopea, which may be symbiotic with one or more of Gary’s sea fans.  Dana Carrison, Dr. Van Syoc’s graduate student at San Francisco State University, is in the process of describing this new species for her MSc. degree and will join GG III(B) on the expedition to Príncipe to search for similar species and relationships. 

 

Gorgonian (sea fan) with Conopea (arrow).  GG II B. Van Syoc phot) 

 

Dana Carrison, Bob’s graduate student from San Francisco State U. (NOAA phot)

Dr. Marta Pola-Perez is an authority on nudibranchs, or sea slugs, and will be along on GG III (B) as well. Marta is a post-doctoral fellow of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology and will be making the Academy’s first survey of these spectacular creatures in the Gulf of Guinea. 

 

Dr. Marta Pola Perez in Cuba 

 

Tambja tentaculata, a nudibranch from Guam (M. Pola-Perez phot) 

Finally, the Gulf of Guinea III marine expedition of early 2009 will include two additional new scientists:   Dr. John McCosker, Chair of Aquatic Biology at the Academy, is perhaps most famous as an authority on great white sharks; in reality he is one the world’s leading experts on eels, his real love. After the group finishes work on Príncipe, John will probably return to São Tomé to look for eels.

 

  Dr. John McCosker, eel specialist (P. McCosker phot)

 Brachisomophis, a snake eel described from Principe. (P. Wirth phot)

Dr. McCosker will be joined and assisted by David Catania, Collections Manager of our Ichthyology Department.  David has collected fish all over the world, and while accompanying Dr. McCosker during SCUBA operations, he also plans to continue combing the São Tomé fish market and meeting the fishing boats as did Dr. Iwamoto during GG I and GG II. 

 

Catania electroshock fishing in Yunnan.  (D LinPhot)

Who knows how many undescribed species are caught each day by the hard-working fishermen of the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe?  The islands continue to amaze and enchant– There is much more coming.

 The parting shot: 

 Nova Cuba, Principe.  GG III (Weckerphoto)

PARTNERS 

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund and the Research Investment Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement  (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/ and especially the generosity of three private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom and Timothy M. Muller, for making these expeditions possible.