Category Archives: primary education

THE RACE: As the (Flat)worm Turns

Tom1

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.

begon giant

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.

good plan

(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.

Dugesia planarian

Planarian (Dugesia) . Stock photo, Google photos.

planarian regen. U Heidelberg
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)

IMG_2200

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.

x new

[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.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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)?

various geos

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).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

oligochaetes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Parting Shot:

teracher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Luiz team

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.

margins
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.

Sao Tome, 2008

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.

cuda

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.

island biology

 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.

t office

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.

tose river

tose river3

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:

parting third grade

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