Category Archives: shrews

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: Island Biologists in Training

Jens Vindum, Senior Collections Manager, Department of Herpetology. (phot D. Lin-GG I)

I need to add and addendum to last month’s blog, “Why We collect Specimens.” Our Senior Collections Manager, Jens Vindum (GG I, GG II) has just informed me that since 2003, there have been 33 international scientific papers published on our Gulf of Guinea reptile and amphibian specimens and/or tissue samples from them!

Clearly, the scientific world is beginning to hear about Sâo Tomé and Príncipe! At this point, I do not know how much of our material from other disciplines has been used but certainly our samples are in labs all over the world.

We have been extremely fortunate to have been able to bring a series of our graduate students with us on a number of our expeditions.  Not only have most flourished academically and many have published on their island projects, they represent a cadre of new young scientists who have an understanding of the uniqueness of the islands and the people who live on them.  All have interacted closely with local island citizens and as a result, function as young biology ambassadors for these fabulous islands.  Overall, the islands are still very poorly known to the outside world, but we are getting there!  Here are our young colleagues:


Lindsay Wilson on Bioko Island with bush viper.  RCD phot – 1998

Lindsay Wilson was a participant on our 1998 expedition to Bioko, the first island in the Gulf of Guinea chain. She completed her MSc on African treefrogs of the genus Hyperolius at San Francisco State University with highest honors.


Joel Ledford on Sao Tome.  D. Lin phot- GG I

Joel Ledford joined Gulf of Guinea I as the graduate student of Dr. Charles Griswold. He completed his MSc at San Francisco State and then his PhD in spider systematics at the University of California, Berkeley.


D. Lin phot – GG I

Also on GG I was Ricka Stoelting, my graduate student. She completed her MSC on the endemic caecilian of Sao Tome (she is holding one, above) and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin.  She is also working on the publication of her MSc work at San Francisco State (SFSU).


B. Van Syoc photo – GG III

Dana Carrison-Stone was a participant of the marine expedition, GG III as the graduate student of Dr. Bob Van Syoc.  Dana discovered two new species of barnacles from the islands and they are part of her MSc which she completed last year at SFSU.


D. Lin phot – GG II

Josef Uyeda was on GG II and again GG on III as an undergraduate at Willamette University and one of my Summer Systematics interns.  During his island work, he discovered and described a new species of frog from Sâo Tomé. As I write, he is defending his doctoral thesis (tomorrow!) at Oregon State University. Flash!! Josef finished his PhD today! (Oct 5)

 

                                                                                                             unknown phot.

Mac Campbell, also a Willamette undergrad, joined GG II as an assistant to our ichthyologist, Dr. Tomio Iwamoto.  He has since completed his MSc at University of Alaska, Fairbanks and is currently a PhD candidate in fish systematic at the same institution.


Weckerphoto – GG III

Rebecca Wenk joined GG III as the grad student of Dr. Tom Daniel one of our senior botanists.  Rebecca’s work resulted in her successful completion of her MSc at SFSU and also an excellent scientific publication on plants of the family Acanthaceae.  Tragically, Rebecca died of a serious illness last year.


A. Stanbridge phot – GG IV

Miko Nadel is a graduate student at San Francisco State, studying under Dr. Dennis Desjardin, the mycologist on GG II and GG III). Miko was a participant on GG VI doing the first comprehensive survey of lichens on the island.

A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI

Rayna Bell also joined us on GG VI, studying color variation in African treefrogs. Rayna is a PhD candidate at Cornell University.

The people above were or still are graduate students who have actually worked on the islands with us.  But they are not the only young academics studying our Gulf of Guinea Island material.  Here at the California Academy of Sciences we have a program known as the Summer Systematics Institute (SSI). This program is funded by the National Science Foundation, and undergraduate students can apply to work on scientific projects for the summer under the mentorship of a CAS faculty member. Here are those that have worked on Gulf of Guinea specimens. I have not included students who started as undergrad SSI interns and later became our grad students (Lindsay Wilson, Josef Uyeda and Ricka Stoelting).


unknown phot

Katie Marshall was an Occidental College undergrad and my SSI intern in 2006.  Katie studied the genetics of the Oceanic treefrog, Hyperolius molleri, the only Gulf of Guinea endemic frog that occurs on both islands.  Katie is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, studying the genomics of marine bacteria.

RCD phot.

Lisette Arellano was an undergrad at the University of California, Santa Barbara when she joined us as my SSI intern in 2009. Lisette examined the morphology and genetics of cobra jita snakes (Lamprophis), long thought to be the same species on Sâo Tomé and Príncipe.  Lisette showed that in fact the two island populations are genetically quite different, also recognizable by color pattern as distinct.  Although we know each island is a different species, we have been unable to publish new names because the relationships of the same group on mainland Africa are still very unclear. Lisette is currently a PhD candidate in Biology at the University of Colorado.


RCD phot – 2010

One of the last vertebrates one would predict to be native to an oceanic island is a shrew, largely due to physiological constraints. During the SSI summer of 2010, Eden Maloney’s DNA work showed that the Sâo Tomé shrew, Crocidura thomensis, did arrive on the island naturally, probably many thousands of years ago and is a true endemic species. Its nearest relative is a different species found in eastern South Africa.  Eden has just graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles and is applying to graduate schools.  We are working on publishing her work.

unkown phot.

Lizzie Miller of the University of California, San Diego was my most recent SSI intern (2010). Lizzie has graduated and is now in graduate school at UCSD studying fish systematics.  Readers will already know from this blog that Lizzie discovered and described a new species of gecko from Príncipe, Hemidactylus principensis.

Lauren in Nigeria. D Blackburn phot – 2012.

Lauren Scheinberg is also a grad student at San Francisco State University. Although never an SSI intern nor has she been with us to the islands, she was my lab assistant on a long-term physiology project and now works as a curatorial assistant in our department.  She has become involved in a rather complicated taxonomic problem with the island skinks of the genus Afroablepharis. Like Lisette’s snakes, we know from the work of colleagues in Madeira and Portugal that the skinks are different species on Sâo Tomé and Príncipe.  Unfortunately, material we loaned them that formed part of the basis of this hypothesis was somehow lost in transit.  Lauren has analyzed our remaining material but collating the information generated by different labs can be extremely difficult.  But we are working on it.

Plans are already afoot for GG VII next year.

Here’s the parting shot:

Joy on the way to Rolas, Sao Tome.. B. Simison phot. – GG VI

PARTNERS
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to collect and export specimens for study. 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 HBD of Bom Bom 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. Abell, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to  “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: Unique Shrew Confirmed: The Magic of Molecules

The summer is almost over, and we have made some wonderful progress in our race to discover more island uniqueness before development changes everything.  When I say “we”, I mean all the dedicated scientists, students and educators involved in our island biodiversity race for the past ten years. However, at the moment the laurels rest squarely on the head of Eden Maloney from the University of California at Los Angeles. Eden has been my intern at the California Academy of Sciences this summer, where she is known as “The Shrewster.”

Crocidura thomensis (l); Eden Maloney, UCLA

One of our most intriguing questions has been whether the supposed endemic São Tomé shrew, Crocidura thomensis, is really endemic, found nowhere else in the world. This would suggest that its ancestor arrived on the island by natural means (rafting?) a long, long time ago.  The alternative (and more likely) hypothesis is that it was brought to the islands, perhaps inadvertently, by the Portuguese during their 500 years of intense commerce on the islands, and the scientist who described it as unique was in error.

This is an important issue, because mammals, with the exception of some bats, are notoriously poor over-ocean dispersers because they are endotherms, needing to maintain a constant body temperature. Moreover, among mammals, the very worst candidates as island colonizers are shrews.  A shrew’s metabolic rate is so high that it must eat every four hours or die from heat loss; thus no competent biologist would predict the presence of such a creature surviving an extended crossing to colonize an oceanic island.

José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage (1823 – 1907); Wikipedia image

Crocidura thomensis was originally described in 1887 by J. V. Barbosa du Bocage, the curator of Zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Lisbon. He based his description on anatomical features such as the large size of the shrew’s feet and ears as well as the particularly long snout. We decided to do a molecular (genetic) test of Bocage’s hypothesis that C. thomensis is found only on Sao Tome and nowhere else in the world. Thanks to the kindness of our friends from the Ministry of the Environment, Arlindo Carvalho, Vitor Bomfin and Salvador Pontes, we were granted permission to receive some shrew specimens collected by our colleague, Ricardo Lima of Nova Moca and to export them to the Academy where Eden did DNA analysis of them. She also included two shrews we collected on Príncipe during GG II (2006). These have long been thought to be an introduced mainland species.

Eden was able to take advantage of a massive molecular study published three years ago by Dr. Sylvain Dubey of the University of Lausanne and his colleagues.  Dubey’s study included 139 members of the shrew Family Soricidae from all over the world, but of course he lacked examples of our island shrews. Eden contacted Dr. Dubey, who was most helpful, and she was able to use the same four genes in her analysis that Dubey used in his larger study. Below is an image of the alignment of the DNA sequences of Dubey’s samples together with our island samples.

Shrew DNA sequence alignment. E. Maloney construct.

Maximum Likelihood Tree; E. Maloney Construct

Above is a cladogram, basically a picture of relationships- it includes the majorityof Afrotropical species and most Asian species that Dubey sampled, plus our island critters. Each line represents a species (or sample), and the lines that are joined together at the base (node) represent species (samples) that are each other’s closest relatives. The blue arrow is C. thomensis, our São Tomé shrew, the red is our Príncipe samples.  While both are members of the same subset of the Afrotropical clade (related groups of lines), note that they are only distantly related to each other. There a number of lines (species) between them, and there are a number of distinct lineages (clades) within the Afrotropical group.

Afrotropical clade III; Eden Maloney construct

Above is a representation of Eden’s Afrotropical Clade III, therelated group within the broad African species clade that includes both our island samples.  Our São Tomé species samples are in the red box, and notice that their nearest relative is a mainland species called Crocidura cyanea, a shrew that ranges from Angola, Botswana and Mozambique south into South Africa.  C. thomensis is genetically distinct enough from this (it’s nearest relative) and all other species in the tree for us to say with confidence that it is a true endemic.  From this we infer that the common ancestor of C. thomensis and C. cyanea somehow reached the island a long, long time ago, long enough for it to have been isolated from the mainland for a great enough period of time to have accumulated enough genetic change so that it is now recognizable as a distinct species. Assuming that our study is accurate and our analysis is correct, Crocidura thomensis is the Gulf of Guinea oceanic islands’ only endemic terrestrial mammal.

Sao Tome’s only endemic terrestrial mammal, Crocidura thomensis; R. Lima phot. 2009

We are not quite ready to publish these results though.  There is still the problem of the two Príncipe samples, called C. poensis (blue box in the Afrotropical cladogram). The shrews on this island have long been thought to be this particular mainland species but the name is an assumption on our part; there are some missing sequences of C. poensis in Dubey’s study, and until we can clarify the situation, we do not know the correct name for the Príncipe shrew; it is probably either C. poensis or C. batesi, both mainland forms.  However, the genetic differences between our Príncipe samples and the other species in Afrotropical Clade III are so small as to strongly suggest that the species is not endemic but rather a recent arrival.

Ricardo Lima in Europe; unknown phot.

Our colleague in this study is Ricardo Lima, who has appeared in this blog a number of times.  Ricardo is a doctoral candidate at the University of Lancaster, has been doing his fieldwork on Sao Tome for several years and is an excellent biologist who is deeply concerned with the unique biodiversity of the islands.  He has an excellent blog: http://riscas83.blogspot.com/

Ricardo Lima on Sao Tome;  phot. R. Rocha

Ricardo not only re-discovered the São Tomé shrew (incorrectly thought to be rare), he has also learned more about this species that has ever been known before.  He has made and plotted numerous sightings of the species during his fieldwork and has been able to learn a great deal about its abundance and natural history.  So, Eden, Ricardo and I will collate his ecological data with our genetic data and publish our results when the remaining issues are all resolved.  One other item: I have suggested, perhaps rashly, that Crocidura thomensis may be the only endemic oceanic island shrew in the world; further investigation is needed.

Anna Sellas, Lab Manager, Center for Comparative Genomics; RCD phot.

We are able to ask and answer such finely-tuned, detailed questions of genetic distance about the unique biota of São Tomé and Príncipe because we have the appropriate tools and wonderful people in our lab. The Center for Comparative Genomics is an integral department of the California Academy of Sciences.  Headed by Dr. Brian Simison, the lab is managed and run by Anna Sellas, a fine biologist and most able teacher of molecular techniques. Dana Carrison, a member of GG III who did her MSc on island barnacles also works in the lab and greatly assisted Eden.

Grad Student Scientists with Gulf of Guinea Projects.  RCD construct

A number of our interns and grad students who have worked in the field with us have done their analyses of São Tomé and Príncipe projects in the CCG. Four of mine, I am enormously proud to say, have entered or completed doctoral programs– they appear above. Some of their projects have been published, the rest are still in preparation.

The parting shot:

Haul-out,  south of Neves.. 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) 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 Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium 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, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor and Velma and Michael Schnoll for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: Shipboard Discoveries from a Good Friend

I have much to report on GG IV results so far, including updates on millipedes, whip scorpions, freshwater red algae (!) and other fascinating new island critters but Academy activity level has been very high since the team got back, and I have just returned from Capetown where I gave talk on the GG Island biodiversity. This week we welcomed Eden Maloney of the University of California at Los Angeles to the lab. Eden will be working all summer on the genetics of the São Tomé shrew, samples of which have been provided by our colleague, Ricardo Lima with kind permission from the STP Ministry of Environment.

Eden “Shrewster” Maloney (UCLA) examining her first shrews at the Academy.  (phot. RCD)

In earlier blogs, we have posed the question: Is the shrew on Sao Tome, Crocidura thomensis really an endemic species, or was it introduced from elsewhere by man?  Eden will be able to answer the question in a couple of months based on comparing the DNA sequences of our samples with related mainland species.  The possibility exists that if native to São Tomé, this may prove to be the only endemic oceanic island shrew in the world! Followers of the blog will already know why this is biogeographically so unlikely.

I will update you on exciting GGIV findings in later blogs; right now I want to report on some marine activities that have just occurred since the GGIV team returned a couple of months ago. In reading the account below, bear in mind that the inshore marine organisms are just as isolated as are the terrestrial species; these are old, old islands both above and below the sea surface, and we must include marine critters adapted to the underwater parts of the islands as just as likely to have endemic species as those in the forests and other terrestrial habitats.

Quintino Quade and Dr. Tomio Iwamoto, seining on Sao Tome.  [D. Lin phot. GG I]

Readers of the blog will already be acquainted with Dr. Tomio Iwamoto, Chair of our Department of Ichthyology and veteran of GG I and GG II. During these first two expeditions, Tomio studied and seined almost all of the freshwater rivers and streams on both islands and co-authored two papers on the results; the first in 2006 was a study of the species of gobies that dominate the island freshwater environment on the islands, and the second was an update of the list of coastal marine fishes written with a number of authors in 2007.  Much of our GG I and GG II material is in this work as Tomio also interacted with the local fisherman and the fish markets.  This publication lists a total of 185 species with several not yet described.

Norwegian Research Vessel, R/V Dr. D. Fridtjof  Nansen [phot O. Alvheim, 2010]

Although he has done all of our freshwater island work, Tomio is actually a marine ichthyologist specializing in a deep-sea group called grenadiers, and he is a frequent participant on scientific trawling expeditions.

As luck would have it, shortly after the GG IV team returned to the Academy, Tomio joined the crew of the Norwegian research vessel Nansen, and although originally scheduled to trawl along the coast of Ghana the itinerary changed and the vessel actually worked the waters of São Tomé and Príncipe for two weeks.  Timing could not have been better because about this time, here at the Academy I began receiving emails from friends on the islands about a mass die-off of the local pufferfish, known also as the Oceanic or Rabbit puffer. Apparently the southeastern beaches of São Tomé were covered with dead ones, and the local people were quite concerned.  I was able to email Tomio on board the Nansen and the ship was in perfect position to look into the matter.

Oceanic or Rabbit pufferfish, Lagocephalus lagocephalus. [Phot. O. Alvheim 2010.]

According to several staff of the Nansen, such die-offs have been seen before, especially off the coast of Gabon, south to northern Angola, but appear to have become somewhat regular since 2007, usually in March-May.  The vessel monitors water salinity, current velocity and temperature at all transects trawled. None of the Rabbit puffers they studied showed any signs of disease or physical trauma; however, about 4 miles offshore of the town of São Tomé, they came upon a current boundary lined with floating dead puffers.

Jens-Otto Krakstad and Dr. Iwamoto examining dead puffers [Phot O. Alvheim 2010]

Usually such boundaries occur between bodies of water different in both salinity and/or temperature.  In their report to the STP Fisheries, they consider the possibility that rapid changes in temperature/salinity could account for these die-offs, but so little is known of the oceanography of the two islands that a positive explanation is elusive.

Giant squid (Lula) catch. Sao Tome northeast coast [ RCD phot.  2000]

It is curious that these die-offs seem to coincide with the annual appearance of large squid (called Lula). These are greatly prized by the locals who wade in the surf, catch them by hand and throw them onto the shore. We’ve eaten them—they’re good.  But it is equally possible that the appearance of the large squid is the result of some sort of breeding activity and not related to changes in the water at all, nor correlated with the puffer die-offs.

Tomio examining grouper, Sao Tome. [phot. O. Alvheim 2010]

Shipboard life for a research ichthyologist is exciting (and exhausting) as one never knows what the next net will contain, and they are hauled in as often as every 4 hours, 24 hours a day!  Tomio’s emails were delightful.  Here is some fun stuff in his own words:

We made a so-so haul yesterday afternoon, coming up with nothing much different. There was a large sea cucumber that was caught–looked like a large loaf of bread with large blotches on the dorsum. I set it aside in a pan with plans to take a tissue sample and a patch of skin for Rich Mooi’s [GG II] colleague, David Pawson………..

Unidentified sea cucumber aboard the Nansen [phot O. Alvheim]

After working up the catch, I brought the cuke into the wet lab and took my samples before going out on deck to work up the next catch. When I returned, I was startled when I discovered something thrashing about in the pan …. Lo and behold, it was a carapid, a pearl fish or fieraster, that lives within the holothuroid. Pearlfishes are freeliving or either parasitic or live as inquiline residents in many invertebrates, such as sea cucumbers, clams, tunicates, starfishes.


Unidentified Pearlfish or Feiraster  [phot O. Alvheim 2010 ]

This represents just another of many new fishes recorded from STeP…. We caught an entirely different kind of pearlfish off Ghana…….All in all, the Nansen seems to have recorded at least fifty (50 !) species of fish never before recorded for the island coastal waters, including the first specimen of a fish called Carangoides bartholomaei ever taken in the eastern Atlantic.

Carangoides bartholomaei– first specimen from the eastern Atlantic. [Phot O. Alvheim 2010]

When I first visited the islands in 2000, I was invited to dinner at what I was told was the “best restaurant in town” called the Blue Container.  I thought to myself, ”what a peculiar name for a restaurant” and remained somewhat mystified until we actually arrived, when I learned that that is exactly what it is: a light blue shipping container that each night opens up and barbeques fish! I am sure it has another name, but it is most famous as the Blue Container.

At the Blue Container: Ned Seligman (STePUP), T. D’Espiney (former ECOFAC director), me and MARAPA worker.  [RCD phot 2000).]

The Blue Container specializes in grilled Flying gurnard, highly sought after and known locally as Con- con (for English speakers pronounced “kong kong”, but without the ”g”).  The Con-con is inevitably served with breadfruit and marine snails.

Flying Gurnard or Con-conDactylopterus volitans [Iwamoto phot. 2010]

The Con-con does not fly, of course.  The name comes from the highly specialized wing-like pectoral fins; it apparently is a bottom dweller that sort of “walks” on these fins. Here is another excerpt from Tomio’s emails:

I now know why Con-con is so popular a fish in these islands: the water is full of them. I wish I had taken a shot of our first haul; pretty close to being entirely made up of [this species]!

A typical trawl haul with a lot of Con-con [Phot O. Alvheim 2010]

More Con-con [Iwamoto phot. 2010]

There is no question that such a survey is of enormous benefit to the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe; knowing the actual makeup of the fisheries resources of their island can lead to more effective management, and members of the Department of Fisheries accompanied the Nansen throughout the survey.

Staff of the STP Department of Fisheries [phot. O. Alvheim 2010]

Fisheries staff measuring Con-con. [Phot O. Alvheim 2010]

On this survey, many of the local fishermen benefitted directly! Here, again, is Dr. Iwamoto: We were off the northwestern tip [São Tomé] where we anchored and hung around overnight after setting out [off-shore] fish traps. This morning, the guys went out to retrieve them and couldn’t locate a one—taken by locals during the night.! That day, The STeP cruise leader, Jose Dias de Sousa Lopes and crew went onshore and made a deal with the local fishermen: leave our traps alone and we will give you our catch.  Thereafter, the traps were remained in place, and the local fishermen paddled out to receive this unexpected bounty!

Fishermen awaiting the Nansen catch. [Phot. O. Alvheim 2010]

There IS such a thing as a freelunch! [Phot. O. Alvheim 2010]

As a final note, Dr. Iwamoto emailed some comments about Príncipe that very much support some of my own conclusions from our work on the islands:

It seems obvious that Príncipe and São Tomé are under very different hydrographic regimes…….The waters around Príncipe lack the biomass one sees in places like Angola, but the overall size of the fishes caught is quite large, suggesting a pristine, little exploited population. Colors of fishes here also tend to be brighter, this according to one of the Norwegian biologists….

These statements reinforce the geological evidence that Príncipe is much older than the big island (twice as old in fact) and this is perhaps reflected in the age and stability of its fish populations.

Satellite image of Principe.  Arrow denotes predominent weather direction (RCD construct]

Viewed from above, one can readily see how large Príncipe must have been some 30 million years ago. The light blue areas are today at about 90 meters in depth but these margins are undoubtedly the original perimeter of the island at its earliest origins – it was probably larger than São Tomé is now.  The predominant weather in the Gulf of Guinea is from the southwest [red arrow] and probably has been for millions of years. So one can see that the island has gradually eroded away from the southwest to northeast.

Cross-section of island of Principe. [RCD construct]

In the above cross-section the part of old Príncipe that has worn away and is now under some 90 meters of water is beneath the blue arrow. In fact, the southwest exposures of Bioko, Príncipe and São Tomé are the steepest and most heavily eroded and on all three, this aspect of each of the islands is accessible only by boat.

Enough for now. Suffice to say that as I write, scientific colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution, Old Dominion University and the South African Institute of Aquatic Biology are describing at least five new marine fish species collected by the California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Expeditions.

The Parting shot.

Old fishin’ buddies on Praia das Conchas, Sao Tome.  Weckerphoto 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) 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 Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium 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, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor and Velma and Michael Schnoll for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to CAS – Gulf of Guinea Fund.

The Race: GG IV– The Second Week

OK, first an update on our special “questing beasts”: last weekend after Roberta Ayres, our education officer, finally arrived, we had a traditional Sao Tome dinner at Nova Moca, a former plantation high on the eastern slopes of the mountain. This is where Ricardo Lima lives, our graduate student colleague who first brought my attention to the supposedly endemic Sao Tome shrew and our mystery “charroco,” the fish that does not appear on our fish checklist.

Roberta Ayers at Nova Moca (Ricardo Lima in back). RCD phot. GG IV

Ricardo gave me the preserved shrew he had already caught, a piece of its tail preserved separately, and the tail of a second shrew, removed by machete by one of Ricardo’s assistants (I should add that shrews are mean critters to handle, and some species have a toxic bite)… the rest of the shrew escaped. Again, we are anxious to test the DNA of this species to see if it is in fact a real endemic or was brought to the islands recently (like during the last 500 years of Portuguese comings and goings). We are unsure of what preservative Ricardo used for the material (he doesn’t remember), so we will be uncertain as to the value of what we already have until we get back to the lab. But I have left a couple of liters of 85% with him, so we know we will get DNA from the next shrew that is encountered


Millipede from Bom Sucesso. RCD phot. GG IV

Another questing beast is the millipede. To our knowledge, this group (the myriapods) has not been sampled on the islands, and our colleague at North Carolina State Museum, Dr. Rowland Shelley (a specialist on the group) expressed doubt that there was much present. Sure enough, almost the first log we turned over had a bunch of them underneath, and we also have a sample from 1100 m higher (including the above). Obviously we will search many more localities, both here and on Principe. I must also add that it is wonderful to have an expert colleague willing to examine stuff like this and give us some answers… the Academy has a lot of experts, but we don’t do everything.

The botany guys, Tom and Jim are doing wondrous things:

Pico Cavalio from the north. T. Daniel phot.GG IV

The picture above is of Pico Cavalio, one that must be climbed en route to the ultimate Pico de Sao Tome at 2,000 meters. This one is a brute and our guys have collected the top of it. So far, this is the highest locality that any of our expedition members has ever reached at 1566m. Also, the guys have found a bunch of new trails through really good forest that earlier teams missed, especially around Lagoa Amelia (in earlier blogs)– some of the results have been pretty spectacular.

Begonia macambrarensis, A Sao Tome endemic. T. Daniel phot. GG IV

This yellow begonia is known only from Sao Tome, and Tom and Jim found it on the way up to Pico Cavalio. This is our first collection of this endemic and quite exciting.


Brachystephanus occidentalis 2 more to go! T. Daniel phot.GG IV

Although the begonia is exquisite, Tom got even more excited about the critter above. Tom just published a monograph of the Acanthaceae of Sao Tome and Principe. By the end of GG III, he had found all but three of the endemic species present on the islands – now the list is down to two! And we have tissue samples for comparison with members oft his family on the mainland and other parts of the world.

Jim Shevock is in “seventh heaven;” he is up to 400 collections. Many of you don’t know Jim yet (he is new to the CAS faculty)—Jim is not only tireless, but totally ebullient! Nothing bothers him (and Tom and I have been trying!)


Jim Shevock collecting new trail. T. Daniel phot.GG IV

One of the real pleasures of leading these expeditions is learning how differently we do the same thing—collecting and preparing specimens. Collecting for Jim just looks like scraping away at rocks, or tree trunks and other substrates (of course, you have to know where to look, and that can take many years). And basically that is what he is doing.. However, the way he prepares his collections is really different.

Jim with prepared specimens of Leucobryum RCD phot. GG IV

Jim does not press plants like Tom does—the stuff Jim collects is already pretty flat! Instead, he has special archival paper which has, already printed on each sheet, a table that includes blanks for the number of the specimen as well as for the whole range of possible environmental conditions under which the specimen was collected. He fills out the blanks (duplicates everything on the computer, of course), then folds the specimen into the paper in such a way that each packet stands up while the specimen is drying within. Our room (all 3 of us together) frequently looks like a major regatta on San Francisco Bay.


Regatta in room #10. RCD phot. GG IV

It is probably obvious to anyone reading this that we could not do any of this work without approval from the authorities, especially the Ministry of the Environment. The Director is Arlindo Carvalho, a delightful man. One of the other gentlemen with whom we work is Vitor Bonfim, who is head of Conservation on the islands. I am including a picture of Vitor because his nephew is a FaceBook friend of mine.. a student in Los Angeles!


While the guys are having all this fun, Roberta Ayers and I have been pursuing the education proposal/dream/idea. We have had an amazing series of meetings with all sorts of people here on the islands; it is my intention that whatever we come up with will have the enthusiasm of the citizens at all levels.


Roberta Ayres and Roberta dos Santos. Omali Lodge. RCD phot GG

A very dear old friend of mine is Roberta dos Santos. Roberta works with Ned Seligman in his NGO, STeP UP. In fact, Ned met Roberta when he was running the Peace Corps here, years ago. But more than that, she has been in education her entire life and her degree (in education) is from the US. (Imagine a young girl born and raised on Sao Tome—on the Equator—landing in Buffalo, New York in mid January!) We have contracted with Roberta to assist our CAS Roberta set up meetings, etc. And Roberta knows absolutely everybody. The “Dos Robertas” are a wonderful team. Our CAS Roberta has the perfect personality as well as the educational know-how for what we are trying to accomplish, and I am much impressed. She “gets it,” and is fun.

After some panicky moments yesterday, our flights to Principe, the much older, smaller island, have been confirmed. I must confess I will be glad to get back out into the field. While I do have this dream for raising awareness of the unique biodiversity here, I really am a bush guy at heart, and meetings pale in comparison to stomping around in forests and swamps. CAS Roberta has all she needs to carry on during the week we are gone and is totally comfortable. Tom, Jim and I take off on Sunday and will return a week later, after Roberta has flown home. With fingers crossed, we are off to see if “cobra bobo” exists on Principe.

The Parting Shot:


Dinner at Nova Moc. Ricardo Lima and RCD. T. Daniel phot. GG IV

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. Our work can be supported by donations to CAS, Gulf of Guinea Fund

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 Species or What’s in a Name?

Ever wonder why biologists use weird, hard-to-pronounce names for animal and plant species?  Well, it all started with Carl Linnaeus, the famous Swedish 18th Century botanist pictured below.

In the 10th edition of his great work, Systema Naturae (1758), Linnaeus established a system  wherein  every living species is given but a single scientific name made up of two parts: the Genus (always capitalized) and the species (always lower case and both are always italicized).  Among animals, no two species ever have the same name, and this is true among plants, as well.  Thus we modern humans are scientifically referred to only as Homo sapiens.  In Linnaeus’s day, most scientists wrote in Latin or Greek, thus it was an early tradition to establish these names in those ancient languages.  Now, naming of new species is tightly regulated by The International Congress of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN; the botanists have the ICBN).  A specific scientific name avoids confusion… here is an example:

The common English name of the critter above is red rattlesnake, or red diamondback rattlesnake; some locals might call it a “red buzzworm!”  In French it would be called un serpent á  sonnettes rouge;  in German: eine rote klapperschlange and if an East African ever saw one, he might call it nyoka sumu nyukundu.  See the problem?  Not only different base languages, but regional differences in common names serve to muddy the waters.  However, the scientific name of this critter is Crotalus ruber, and regardless of their native languages, scientists will always know exactly what species is being discussed.  Taxonomists usually try to come up with a name that is descriptive of the species; in this case, Crotalus ruber translates roughly from the Latin as “red bell-ringer,” an obvious reference to its color and the sound made by the rattle.

The Sao Tome shrew: Crocidura thomensis (R. Lima phot, 2009)

Here is another example– the supposedly endemic shrew we are just beginning to study is called Crocidura thomensis, which meansyellow-tail from Thomas [=São Tomé]”.  Probably the first species described in the genus Crocidura had a yellowish tail, although C. thomensis clearly does not.

The Oceanic Treefrog, Hyperolius molleri (Weckerphoto GG III)

Scientists may also name species in honor of the person who first collected the specimen; such is the case with the Oceanic treefrog, Hyperolius molleri, found on both São Tomé and Príncipe, M.A.F. Moller was the late 19th Century explorer who first collected the frogs and brought them to Portugal where the species was named in his honor at the University of Coimbra.

Sao Tome puddlefrog, Phrynobatrachus leveleve  (Weckerphoto GG III0

Taxonomists have a fair amount of latitude in the choice of words and meanings for scientific names although they are usually Latinized.  As an example, Josef Uyeda, Breda Zimkus and I chose Phrynobatrachus leveleve as the new name for one of our own new species of frogs from São Tomé.  Phrynobatrachus is an old generic name and actually means “toad-frog;” as to the meaning of leveleve, here is a quote from our paper:  The phrase, “leve leve,” generally meaning “easy, easy” or “lightly, lightly” has also been translated by Henrique Pinto da Costa, former Minister of Agriculture, as “calmly, surely.” In our opinion, all three definitions describe the delightful, easy-going demeanor of the citizens of The Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe….it is with the hope that the citizens of this tiny African nation will maintain their ecological heritage and cheerful outlook on life that we name this diminutive endemic anuran. Thus, we named the new species in honor of the attitude of the island citizens.

Illustration by H. Heatwole, 1970

Scientists are also known to inject humor into scientific names, on occasion. The image above is a composite plate from a scientific publication.  By way of explanation, many American scientists receive support for their work from our National Science foundation, known universally to us over here as “NSF”.  Look at the upper-most image of a frog known scientifically as Physalaemus enesefae… if you are an English speaker, pronounce the species name slowly and you’ll get the humor.

Now for the fun stuff: here is a photo of our latest new species from São Tomé, a mushroom we discovered on the trail up to Lagoa Ameliaduring GG II in 2006.  It was formally described just last month in the journal MYCOLOGIA,  and Drs Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry named it after me.   It is called Phallus drewesi meaning (literally) Drewes’s penis!

Phallus drewesi Desjardin & Perry 2009 (B. Perry phot. GG III)

As you can see, these fungi are shaped very much like a mammalian penis… they usually grow upright from the forest floor, smell terrible and attract flies! The flies act as vectors disperse the fungus’s spores!

Dr. Brian Perry with a Principe Phallus  (RCD phot. GG III)

Members of the genus Phallus can grow quite large. Above is an image of Dr. Brian Perry, one of the describers, holding an example of Phallus atrovolvatus from Príncipe –a rather average sized Phallus.

The author with Phallus drewesi on Sao Tome  (Weckerphoto, GG III)

Above is a picture of me holding a couple of examples of Phallus drewesi in 2008, and as you can see, they are quite small!  Not only that, but so far as is known P. drewesi is the second smallest species in the world!  And, it grows limp! Not proudly erect from the forest floor!

It has been hard for some of my non-scientists to understand what an incredible honor this is.  Dennis, Brian and I are good friends and colleagues; in fact, Dennis and I play jazz together as often as we can and serve on the same university faculty.

The author and Dr. Desjardin at Praia Francesa. (Weckerphoto GG III)

It is a great honor because having a species named for you confers a form of immortality. Regardless of what the species is, the scientific name lives on as long as there is science. This is even the case even if decades from now, another scientist learns that this species already has a name – Phallus drewesi lives on in the botanical literature as a synonym. Scientists keep track of all names formally ascribed to a species, whether valid or not.  So, yes, it is a wonderful thing to have something named after you, whatever it may be!

Here’s the parting shot:

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: Taming of the Shrew (and updates)

Things have been very busy.

Our flower people, Dr. Tom Daniel and Rebecca Wenk have been very active. Rebecca successfully completed her M.Sc . degree at San Francisco State University, based in part on plants she collected in the islands during GG III (A). She then published her research, with Tom, in the latest Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences; the publication includes a special treatment of the genus ElytrariaE. mariginata is the little flower that Rebecca finally found high up on Pico Papagaio on Príncipe that was so exciting and which we reported last May. (See “News from the Flower people”).

Rebecca among the giant Begonias. Lagoa Amelia. Wenk camera: GG III.

Tom is nearing completion of his monograph on the acanthus (shrimp) flowers of São Tomé and Pr<!–[if gte msEquation 12]>í<![endif]–>ncipe. He is now collaborating with Estrela Figueiredo, a Portuguese botanist who has been on the islands many times and has added much to our knowledge of the botany of the Gulf of Guinea as a whole There are several species of the Acanthaceae found only on São Tomé and Príncipe and one (Heteradelphia paulowilhelmia) which may be endemic at the genus-level. We found this beautiful flower in the middle of Lagoa Amelia at 1400 m. during GG III.

Heteradelphia paulowilhelmia. Lagoa Amelia. Weckerphoto: GG III

Wes Eckerman (photographer) Rebecca and Tom at Lagoa Amelia. RCD phot: GGIII

Another species in Tom’s group that is of particular interest to me personally is an acanth called Justicia thomeensis. This flower is known only from São Tomé and has not been collected since the late 19th Century – the original collector did not provide detailed locality data, and we have not found it on the islands yet. We hope it is not extinct, or that it was not actually collected somewhere else. Tom has examined the original dried specimens in Coimbra; it is perfectly valid, and he is re-describing the species. Another botanist named Hedrén examined this material, and in a 1989 study found that J. thomeensis is more closely related to a group of species in East Africa than to any in nearby West Africa. I am finding the same strange disparate distribution patterns among my island frogs.

Justicia relationships. RCD

On the crustacean front, Alex Kim, our freshwater shrimp colleague (see January and March blogs) has decided to attend Harvard for his undergraduate studies, and this summer he is doing fieldwork on prawns in Puerto Rico. He tells us that the São Tomé specimens collected for him earlier this year by the marine group “..represent at least two species which, based on morphology, have clear affinities with New World forms. DNA analysis is still ongoing, but the geological youth of these prawns leads me to suspect that we will soon have genetic evidence of trans-Atlantic larval dispersal.” Pretty impressive stuff for an incoming freshman.

A New World prawn.  Alex Kim phot.

A few months ago I had an opportunity to lecture on some of the scientific results of our Gulf of Guinea Island expeditions to a group of biologists at international meetings in Sardinia; afterward in Spain, I met one of the foremost experts on bats, Javier Juste, of Institute Doñana in Seville who has also worked on the islands and has discovered some of the same strange evolutionary relationships that we have. We are about to send him bat tissues from our GGI collection for DNA extraction.

7th Congresso Nazionale, Societas Herpetologica Italica. Sardinia. C. Corti phot.

In earlier blogs, we discussed the fact that mammals make poor dispersers over saltwater barriers; except for some bats, mammals simply cannot survive long enough to colonize oceanic islands. This is because we mammals have to eat regularly in order to maintain constant body temperatures –without “stoking the furnace” by eating regularly, mammals quickly die of exposure. This is specially the case with shrews; because of the ratio of their tiny body masses to their surface area, shrews lose heat faster than any other mammal, and a shrew has eat almost constantly, or it dies of hypothermia. It is perhaps a testimony to the great geological age of São Tomé and Príncipe that shrews appear to have, nevertheless, successfully colonized both islands! If the two species are indeed valid and occur naturally (not brought to the islands accidentally through human agency), then these may be the only oceanic island shrews in the world.

The Sao Tome shrew (Crocidura thomensis). R. Lima phot. 2009

To our knowledge, the photographs above and below are the first ever published of the supposedly endemic São Tomé shrew, Crocidura thomensis. The photographs were taken by Ricardo Lima, a doctoral candidate at the University of Lancaster who is studying the environmental effects of various agro-forestry techniques on São Tomé. Ricardo tells us that the shrews are not at all rare; in spite of this, we don’t know much about this little critter, nor the one on Príncipe. The São Tomé species was first discovered in 1886 by the great Portuguese explorer, Francisco Newton and described in 1887.

C. thomensis. R. Lima phot. 2009.

The relationships of these small island insectivores were not assessed until nearly 100 years later by Heim de Balsac and Hutterer in 1982. These authors concluded (on morphological evidence) that the São Tomé shrew was a full endemic species, and that the Príncipe form was an endemic subspecies of Fraser’s musk shrew (C. poensis) which is widespread on mainland Africa.

Ricardo Lima and friends, crossing the Rio Lemba, Sao Tome.  2009.

Now, we are in the exciting position of being able to test these assumptions using modern genetic techniques; just how closely related are the two shrews, based on DNA sequence? Did these mammals arrive naturally by rafting, as we suggest for the amphibians? Perhaps millions of years ago? Or were they hitchhikers on an old Portuguese galleon a couple of hundred of years ago? We hope to find out.

Aspergillus dykowskii and Sarophorum palmicola on monkey pod cacao; Lagoa Amelia. D Lin phot. GG II

Finally, our mycologists have a huge job. As you know before our expeditions began back in 2001, there were only four species of mushrooms known from São Tomé, and Príncipe had never been sampled. Now, after Dr. Dennis Desjardin’s work on GG II (2006) and his subsequent return with Dr. Brian Perry during GG III last year, we now have 225 species (including 75 listed for the first time on Príncipe). Many of these are probably new to science and it will be a major effort to fully analyze the entire collection. But Dennis and Brian took the opportunity to describe one of the new species separately. It has just been formally published in the journal Mycologia, and they have named it after me! It is a weird looking thing, and I will describe the whole process (including the humor sometimes involved) in the next blog.

Here’s the parting shot:

“After the Race.”  Weckerphoto. 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.