Category Archives: spiders

The Race: More New Species, More New Science

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

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

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

Charles

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

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

Pholcidae2

 Pholcid spider – Google Images

pholcidae

 Pholcid spider – Google Images

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

 

Dennis III

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

Principe, 2008

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

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

EVO_69_4_cover.indd

Evolution Volume 69, Number 4, 2115.

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

 

image 3

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

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

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

parting shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

tedx poster

me at tedx

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

Team 7

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

saotome_poster small

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

 

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

Tetramorium renae

Tetramorium renae, Photo by CAS Project Lab.

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

Usnea  NM phot

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

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

3X6A4358 AS

 

3X6A4368as

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

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

Rayna 2

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

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

Pochyta

Pochyta sp. Phot. T. Szuts, GG VII

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

salti 1a

 

salti 2b

T. Szuts photos. GG VII

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

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

Praia Inhame 2

Praia Inhame, São Tomé 2013; unknown photographer

 

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

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

P from Jockey's Bonnet

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

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

The Race: GG VII – – First Week: Snakes, Workshops and Spiders

Our first week is now complete. The botanists and Andrew our photographer went to Príncipe early so I will include their progress in a later blog. One thing I will add though is a picture Andrew emailed us yesterday, a shot of the endemic diurnal green snake, the Príncipe Soá-soá. We have only been able to collect one of these (GG I); it is an extremely elusive species.

Photos - 4086

Hapsidophrys principis  A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

Signe Mikulane, a PhD student at the University of Heidelberg had been in contact with me during the past few months and delayed her return to Germany to be with us for a week. She joined us in our early school visits, and especially our annual check of the status of the large tree where we find the Sao Tome giant treefrog.

 GGVII Photos  - 681 V. Schnoll phot. GG VII

 We found no adults but Signe dug her hand into the tree hole and came up with tadpoles, so we know the tree is still in use. In the picture above, there are several tadpoles in her hands.

GGVII Photos  - 748

  Velma Schnoll &Signe Mikulane return from the frog tree

RCD phot. GG VII

With the arrival of Roberta Ayres (and Dr. Szuts) the biodiversity education team was complete.

P1010209Ayres and Szuts arrive in Sao Tome RCD phot. GG VII

Saturday we held our first ever teacher workshop at Escola Primaria Maria de Jesus, the largest primary school in the country (2,000+ kids).

IMG_2293RCD phot GG VII

 We spoke to 58 teachers about island biodiversity in more depth so that they can use the materials we have brought more efficiently. The hour and a half presentation was extremely well received, even though we had to project our powerpoint on the back of a canvas painting!

GGVII Photos  - 801

RCD phot GG VII

Although we are concentrating on fourth grade this year, the teachers were from all grades and we have already noticed that our materials, the posters, the coloring books, etc. are used widely at many different levels.

GGVII Photos  - 804

The education team: Velma Schnoll, Roberta Ayres, Roberta dos Santos

RCD phot GG VII

Dr. Tamas Szuts, Professor of Biology at the University of West Hungary is our jumping spider expert. We took him into the field early, to the south end of the island and he began collecting.

GGVII Photos  - 803

Here, Tamas is using a simple sweep net. RCD phot GG VII

 GGVII Photos  - 782

Tamas is using a beating pan here. He holds it beneath a bush and beats the latter.  RCD phot GG VII

 By the way, these pictures do not do Tamas justice. He is about 6’ 8” tall. He brings specimens back live and then photographs them in great detail.

P1010280

 This is Tamas photo setup in our room and the results are truly spectacular RCD phot GG VII

By the way, the bottle on the right is NOT vodka; it is lab grade ethyl alcohol for the preservation of DNA,

Tamas - 041

Tamas - 106

Tamas - 065

T. Szuts photos GG VII

The second two images are salticid, or jumping spiders; the first is of a different group.

In this YouTube video, Tamas Szuts describes his fieldwork: http://youtu.be/LDdFMn0eARw

More soon when Rayna, our frog student arrives and we reunite with the rest of the science team.

Here’s the parting shot:

IMG_2276

Satocao workers returning from cacao plantation V. Schnoll phot GG VII

PARTNERS:

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

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

The Race: Endemicity and the Gulf of Guinea VII Expedition (I. The Scientists)

Readers may recall that last March, prior to GG VI, I gave several lectures in Portugal on Gulf of Guinea island biodiversity. The last was an international colloquium on São Tomé and Príncipe held at the University in Lisbon. There I met a number of the participants, among whom were old friends and a delightful entomologist named Dr. Luis Mendes; Luis and I remained in contact, and he has just published and sent me the most up-to date survey of the butterfly fauna of the islands butterfly fauna.

BUTTERFLIES

Photo by Luis Mendes

As we have learned to expect, the endemicity (uniqueness) level is high. Luis and his colleague, Bivar de Sousa, report 111 species present on both islands, 29 of which are found nowhere else in the world. Thus, fully a quarter of the butterflies (26%) are endemics. This is further testimony to the great age of these islands, as we know that genetic change (evolution) occurs with isolation and time. Last month, another paper appeared by Loureiro and Pontes confirming the endemic status of a species of dragonfly, Trithemis nigra found only on Príncipe but not seen for many years.

best Trithemis_nigra_PI_NSL_0213

Photo of Trithemis nigra byNuno Loureiro 

The image below is a summation of our current knowledge of  some of the insect endemicity on the two islands; much of the data upon which this summation is based are very old, and so much more work needs to be done.

INSECTS

photo: www images:  CAS construct.

We are getting ready for GG VII (April-May), and below is our new logo for the expedition; note that the famous Cobra bobo, a legless amphibian found only on São Tomé has been joined by an endemic Príncipe snake, also called Cobra bobo but entirely unrelated. (The cartoons of both animals were made by my graduate student, Dashiell Harwood, and the layout was by a member of our Biodiversity Education Team, Michael Murakami.

logo

GG VII (2013) logo.

Jimmy

James Shevock of CAS; photo A. Stanbridge- GG VI

Jim Shevock, a world-class bryologist, will be joining us for the third time. As you can see from the data above, he has already greatly increased our knowledge of mosses and their relatives on the islands, and there are still many species to be found. For example, during GG VI last year, Jim returned to the same locality along the Rio Papagaio in Príncipe that he had collected during GG V; in GG VI and found many plants he did not find the first time, including 10 of them new to the country! Jim has worked a lot in Asia and his nickname on Taiwan is “Little Bear.”

Rayna

Rayna Bell at Caxuiera, Sao Tome. A.  Stanbridge phot – GG VI

Rayna Bell is a graduate student from Cornell University. During GG VI she studied possible hybridization between the two endemic São Tomé treefrog species Hyperolius thomensis and H. molleri and currently has a paper in press on her work with us last year. This year we will try to find the elusive tadpole (larva) of the Príncipe giant treefrog which remains undescribed. Leptopelis palmatus is the largest treefrog in Africa.  Speaking of herpetology, to date our CAS island specimens and tissues have been used in 33 scientific publications, internationally!

Tom

Dr. Tom Daniel, Lagoa Amelia, Sao Tome.  RCD phot, GG III

Dr. Tom Daniel is a veteran of GG III and GG IV. Our senior botanist, he is a specialist on the flower family Acanthaceae (shrimp plants); in the picture above, he is standing in Lagoa Amelia next to Heteradelphia, a genus we think is endemic to São Tomé. He has done a lot of work on ferns and other Gulf of Guinea plant groups as well.

Tamas final

Dr. Tamas Szuts with some of his critters – Tszuts photos

Dr. Tamas Szuts is an expert on jumping spiders of the family Salticidae. He was a post-doctoral fellow here at the Academy under Dr. Charles Griswold (GG I) and will be joining the team for the first time. He is now on the faculty of the University of West Hungary. Salticids are about the only spider  group I think are kind of cute, face to face!

Miko

Miko Nadel, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge photo. GG VI

Miko Nadel is a graduate student at San Francisco State University under Prof. Dennis Desjardin (GG II, GG III). After making a comprehensive lichen collection during GG VI, he has decided to focus his research on the lichen genus Usnea; these are the hanging, pendulous lichens known in the US as “old man’s beard.”

droo better

Andrew Stanbridge at Laguna Azul, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge photo. GG VI

We will once again be documented by the world’s largest photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, veteran of GG V and GG VI. Andrew was one of those who ascended the Pico do São Tomé last year (see last April blog). His obvious photographic skills are only part of what he brings to our expeditions.

bob-1

Dr. Bob Drewes with Regional President of Principe, Hon. Jose Cassandra.  A. Stanbridge phot.  GG VII

I will be leading the trip as usual and will attempt to answer the ongoing question: do I have to wear a tie to see President Jose, or do I not have to wear a tie? .. Never quite seem to get it right.

The second part of the blog will be focused on the education team and our plans for Gulf of Guinea VII

Here’s the Parting Shot:

incredible Principe

Incredible Principe Island. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI

 

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 Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Race: Our Omali Base, Year’s Odds and Ends

Year’s end and things are busy, even in Academia.   Here at the Academy, we are already in planning mode for GG VI but more on that in coming months.  We are awaiting the publication of more of our discoveries, and I will report them here as they appear.  In the meantime this is a good opportunity to thank all of you who have helped make next year’s expedition a probability: the Herbst Foundation, the “Blackhawk Gang”, and the California Academy of Sciences Docent Council.

As readers know, our mission is not only to discover and scientifically describe what is on these wonderful old islands but to let others know about it, especially the citizens.   But, this also includes the business visitor and tourists primarily interested in fishing or ocean activities.  The neat unique critters we are studying are not just isolated up in the higher reaches of the forest; many can be found right downtown.  You just have to look.

toes by velma

The Omali Pool [photo and toes- V. Schnoll, GG V]

On the beach of Praia Lagarto, between the airport and downtown São Tomé, lies the Omali Lodge.  Originally built by a Mr. Hellinger, I remember it in its original incarnation as the Marlin Beach Hotel, one of the best bars in the islands– a real gathering place.  It is small and quite upscale but it retains its original flavor.  Folks who know the islands or have been well informed stay at the Omali; it attracts rather fascinating people.

The Omali is pretty fancy digs for a bunch of bush biologists like us but luckily, the Omali’s owners have supported our work by allowing us to stay there during our last three expeditions.  As comfortable and friendly as the Omali is, the central thing for our work is a dependable power source (although a post-fieldwork dip in the pool is not too shabby!)

oMALI WECK

The Omali [Weckerphoto, GG III]

So as a new visitor, if you walk through the foyer and bar out to the back to the pool, you will first be struck by the enormous coconut palms.  Ignore them for now; to the left around the back of the kitchen, and behind the rockwork in the pool are several other palm-like trees that aren’t!

screw pine

screw pines, Pandanus thomensis. fruit (r), prop roots (l)  [T. Daniel, GG III, IV]

These are the São Tomé screw pines, Pandanus thomensis.  You can tell them from the palms by the fact that the base of each tree is supported by a number of prop roots (see right, above).  Obviously, these are neither pines nor coconuts; the important thing to know is that these trees are found only on São Tomé, nowhere else in the world.

macu2

Trachylepis maculilabris. [D. Lin, GG II]

As you walk along the pool, the first quick movement in the grass is likely to be a speckle-lipped skink, particularly common during the heat of the day.  These lizards are not unique to the islands but they are very good dispersers across oceanic barriers, and they are found on many of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands.  Some of our colleagues have looked at the genetics of the São Tomé and Prìncipe skinks and suggest that while they are not endemics, they have been on the islands since long before man arrived.

Lygo thomensis  JU III

Lygodactylus thomensis [J. Uyeda, GG II]

On the walls surrounding the pool and rooms lives the São Tomé day gecko, Lygodactylus thomensis, which shuttles in and out of the shade in search of insects.  Most geckos are nocturnal creatures, but this group is secondarily diurnal.  L. thomensis is a true endemic whose ancestors probably reached São Tomé millions of years ago; the same is true of its closest relatives, the Prìncipe day gecko, L. delicatus, and the Annobon day gecko, L. wermuthi.

Scutellaridae true bug weck

Homopteran true bug [Weckerphoto, GG III]

Most of the Omali plants are ornamentals from other parts of the world of course, but this does not mean they do not harbor fascinating species.  Our photographer on GG III, Wes Eckerman took the photograph above of a homopteran bug on a bush near the Omali pool.   Our entomologists have not been able to identify it beyond the Family Scutellaridae! It is highly likely that an enormous number of the islands’ insects remain to be discovered and described scientifically.

waxbill

Common waxbill,  Estrilda astrild [Weckerphoto, GG III]

cordon bleu

Blue-cheeked cordon-bleu, Uraeginthus cyanocephala [Weckerphoto GG III]

Bird life around the pool is plentiful and entertaining. The most commonly seen birds in the Omali bushes are various finches and waxbills that are of African origin and possibly brought over from the mainland as pets by the Portuguese colonials (above).  But the real specialty is the São Tomé Prinia.  Prinias are Old World insectivorous warblers; there are about 30 species divided between Africa and Asia.  Prinia molleri is the only member of this group in the islands and it is found only on São Tomé, from downtown all the way to the top of Pico at 2,000 meters. As common and seemingly fearless as this endemic little bird is, it is extremely difficult to photograph. It just won’t hold still.

pRINIA

Prinia molleri on Omali window sill [Weckerphoto, GG III]

pRINIA2

Prinia molleri [Weckerphoto, GG III]

Finally, lying around the Omali pool it is impossible not to notice the noisy action up at the top of the palm trees.  Part of the year the palm fronds seem to be inhabited mostly by vitelline masked weavers. Even when they are not around their distinctive nests from the year before are obvious. Males display noisely to attract females to the new nests, which are made annually.

Weaver_Vitelline_Masked_Soitorgoss_Daudi_2007_03_19_2b

Vitelline masked weaver,  Ploceus velatus [Globaltwitchers phot]

These weavers are native but not unique to the islands although some ornithologists recognize them as a distinct race (or subspecies, Ploceus velatus peixotoi) indicating that they may have been isolated from the mainland long enough to be recognizably different from the mainland species.  These weavers are not found on Prìncipe.  All who know them would agree that weavers are a noisy group in general.

When we are working on the islands, usually March-May, the weavers are rather scarce and instead, their place in the palm trees seems to be taken up with the large island fruit bat, Eidolon helvum. These large bats are common on the African mainland where they are migratory; the São Tomé populations are thought to be the same species but do not migrate.  They are eaten by many local people.

Bat Eidolon helvum

Eidolon helvum at the Omali [RCD, GG V]

An hour or so at the Omali pool at the right time of year is enough to learn that Eidolon is a very noisy animal as well.  They seem to argue and fuss all day when they should be sleeping; the sight of the entire group flying off to feed at dusk is unforgettable.

velma

Fruit bats leaving the Omali at dusk [V. Schnoll phot. GG V]

Bats are a group much in need of genetic study.  There are a number of endemic species recognized by anatomical characters, but in most cases their true species status has not been tested molecularly as we have done with the Sao Tome shrew (see earlier blogs).  The expert on the bats of these islands is my colleague Dr. Javier Juste of the Doñana Institute in Seville, Spain.  In an earlier blog I reported that Dr. Juste was involved in the description of a new pipistrelle bat from Prìncipe – this is not yet published and is based in part on genetics. During the past few weeks, I have sent Javier some images of bats we have taken during past expeditions, and he has kindly tried to identify them for us.

bats Nova Cuba

Hipposideros bats at Nova Cuba, Principe [Weckerphoto, GG III]

This is a group of bats we found at the old plantation of Nova Cuba, on Prìncipe. Currently recognized as Hipposideros ruber guineensis, they are thought to be a race of the red bat common on São Tomé but it would not surprise me if further analysis might prove them to be a distinct species.

Hipposideros ruber guineaeensis

Nova Cuba. Hipposideros ruber guineensis [Weckerphoto, GG III]

The photo below was taken by Wes during the day, on the ridge above Lagoa Amelia at about 1400 meters on São Tomé. Javier thinks it might be the endemic Hipposideros thomensis.

H. thomensis Lagoa Amelia

Hipposideros thomensis above Lagoa Amelia. [Weckerphoto, GG III]

A final note on spiders; two previous blogs this year have dealt with spiders we have found in gardens, one of which turned out to be an endemic species.  A few days ago, my colleague Angus Gascoigne of the Instituto Superior Politecnico sent me several photos of the spider below:

argiope1

Argiope orb weaver [Manuel Morais phot. 12/2011]

I took the photos in to our spider experts and they got quite excited.  It is an orb weaver of a widespread genus but “this one is really different!”  I suppose I should not be surprised, and Angus is collecting more as I write.

For all of you who observe them, Happy Holidays!

Here’s the Parting Shot:

parting

The Raison d’Etre!

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 Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the last three 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, Sheila Farr Nielsen, Corinne W. Abel and Mr. and Mrs. John Sears.   Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: An Embarrassing Surprise in Henrique’s Garden

Last May while still in the islands I wrote a blog entitled “Henrique’s Spider.”  Henrique Pinto da Costa is my good friend and former Minister of Agriculture in the Republic of São Tomé e Príncipe. We are quite close and call each other “Bob 42” and “Henrique 42”, referring to the year of our respective births (There is a mutual friend, “Bruce 42” as well – Bruce Potter, who runs the Island Research Foundation in Washington D.C..

Since we left the islands, Henrique’s brother, Manuel, has been elected the new President of the Republic;  in fact Manuel Pinto da Costa was also the country’s first president after independence from Portugal in 1975.

in-the-garden

“Bob 42” and “Henrique 42” in Henrique’s Garden, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge GGV

As I wrote some months ago, we found some remarkable spiders of the genus Gasteracantha in Henrique’s garden which I brought back to the Academy for identification as, at the time, I did not recall ever seeing this strange spider on earlier expeditions.

qu-hunting

Quintino Quade spider hunting in the garden.  A. Stanbridge. GG V

I gave the spiders to our experts in Entomology who tentatively identified them as Gasteracantha sanguinolenta, a very widespread species  on the mainland.

henriques-gasteer

Henrique’s Gasteracantha – first sighting. A. Stanbridge GG V

A few weeks ago, another old island friend, Angus Gascoigne of ISP, a lecturer at the islands’ polytechnic institute asked me if I knew about an endemic island spider called Gasteracantha thomasinsulae; he also pointed out that we, the California Academy of Sciences, actually house the type material, the specimens from which this endemic species was named.  This came as a surprise to the Entomology staff, but then that department houses over 15 million specimens.   Darrell Ubick of Entomology went into our enormous collections, located the type material, compared it with the specimens we brought back and sure enough, Henrique’s spiders are the endemic Gasteracantha thomasinsulae, so far known only from the island of São Tomé!

Here is Gasteracantha thomasinsulae, an endemic spider  from Henrique 42’s garden, and NOT a widespread mainland species!!  A Stanbridge GG V
g-thomasinsula

g-t

gasteracantha-thomasinsula

These spiders were first discovered by a professional collector named Borys Malkin, who collected a series of them in 1949 for Dr. Ed Ross, one of our entomologists. They were found in a number of localities including Nova Ceilão, Zampalma and Macambrara.  Dr. Ross sent the specimens to Dr. Allan Archer, a specialist at the University of Alabama, who ultimately described them as a new species in 1951.

type-material

The original type series collected in 1949, in the collections of the California Academy of Sciences  RCD phot

This is what large natural history museums and their faculties are for.  I wonder though if Angus had not written me how long it might have taken to realize what we had!
Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi!

The parting shot:

the-love-of-teachers

The shared love and respect of teachers.  Sao Tome. GG V

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, 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 support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the last three 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. Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: Henrique’s Spider

We have been back from GG V for a week or so now, and Velma and I are still trying to sift through the happy kaleidoscope of our experiences. Our photographer Andrew Stanbridge went on to further adventure with my kids in Ethiopia, so I suspect it will take him longer to decompress!

GG V was different; in over 40 years of fieldwork, this was the only expedition I have led in which I did very little science – mostly outreach and lecturing which were of course our goals this time. But, you can take the boy out of science, but not the science…….. etc. So along with lecturing, distributing posters and meeting important citizens, we did manage to do a little science.

thomensis

The Sao Tome giant tree frog D. Lin Phot – GG I

Readers of this blog (Glorious Ghost…. May, 2008) will already know about the endemic Sao Tome giant tree frog that breeds in holes in trees in the higher elevations of Sao Tome Island. Although we have not collected any since 2006, on every expedition I always check one particular tree to make sure its holes are still in use by the frogs. And I keep the location of the tree a secret, as I would hate to see these wonderful critters in the pet trade. This Olea is the only tree we have found with holes low enough to give easy access to the breeding holes.

tree-1vs1

V. Schnoll phot – GG V

This time we found no adults but obvious signs that the frogs still use them.

tree-2vs1

V.  Schnoll phot.- GG V.

An egg mass was present in one of the holes testifying to the fact that the frogs are still around. I have no idea of population levels as these frogs appear largely to be canopy dwellers, but I doubt they are rare as they can be heard at night calling from high up in the trees.

On the eastern side of the island, our jumping off point for high elevation work like this has always been Bom Sucesso, where the main Trinidade road ends. This combination Park Obo Headquarters, meeting place, tourist destination and overnight facility for hikers and scientists at about 1000m is about as high as you can go by vehicle, and it is also a charming Botanical Garden. Until recently it has also functioned as the National Herbarium, curated by Faustino de Oliviera. Much of our duplicate Academy plant specimens are housed there complete with data labels.

lagoas-at-bs-nvs1

Lagoas, our old friend, guiding tourists at Bom Sucesso. V. Schnoll phot– GG V

During GG V, we were saddened to learn that the various projects that have supported Bom Sucesso have been exhausted and except for a few guides waiting for tourists, no one seems to be maintaining the botanical garden and the herbarium– they are rapidly falling into disrepair.

bom-successo

Andrew and Velma lunching at Bom Sucesso. RCD phot–GG V

This is particularly tragic in that it is the National Herbarium, and I have always felt strongly that African countries should share in the biological discoveries made in their territories. Moreover it is frequently visited tourists attraction. Regrettably, there is no minimal, base-line government support to keep such entities going. My guess is that it would take only two salaries to survive the lean periods between projects: one for a full-time gardener and one for the Herbarium Curator.

Down the mountain at about 800m and not far from the waterfalls of Sao Nicolau is the lovely home of my friend, Henrique Pinto da Costa.

henrique

Henrique Pinto da Costa viewing a poster. V. Schnoll phot.– GG V

Henrique is the former Minister of Agriculture and one of our most valuable friends; I have learned much about the history and people of Sao Tome and Principe from him, and he has appeared in earlier blogs.

On our first GG V visit to Henrique’s he gave us a tour of his gardens which are extensive and impressive.

henriques-garden-ra-gg-iv

Henrique’s garden. R. Ayres phot–GG IV

As we were walking through, Velma called my attention to a rather amazing-spider, among Henrique’s plants, and I recognized it as a Gasteracantha. This is a spider I am familiar with from my early days in East Africa.

bob-spider

Henrique’s spider. A. Stanbridge phot.– GG IV

Gasteracantha is an orb weaver, although it does not look like one. They are solitary and weave a flat, disc-shaped web, but also have strange lateral spine-like projections from the body. On GG I, back in 2001, we had two arachnologists with us and made a large collection. This collection has yet to be analyzed but having been with both spider people, I could not remember ever collecting this genus on the islands.

gasteracantha-sanguinolenta

Gasteracantha sanguinolenta? strange dorsal view. A. Stanbridge phot — GG V.

We did not touch the spiders, but when we returned to our base in Sao Tome, I emailed Dr. Charles Griswold, my colleague, one of the world’s experts on spiders and the lead arachnologist on GGI. I informed him that I could not recall ever collecting members of this genus on our earlier trips to the islands, and should I collect some

charles

Dr. Charles Griswold at Lagoa Amelia. D. Lin phot — GG I

Charles response: Get ‘em! The parting shot of our 22 April blog is of my long-time friend and island field companion, Quintino Quade Cabral, collecting spiders in Henrique’s garden. We got a fine series of Gasteracantha and also some of a different, non-spiny species that appears to be somewhat colonial. The specimens are in our spider lab awaiting identification. A preliminary ID suggests they may be something called the Blood-red spiny spider, G. sanguinolenta. This has an enormous range so it well might be; on the other hand, a closer look at Sao Tome and Principe specimens frequently brings surprises.

More when our photographer, Andrew returns. My next Summer Systematics Intern, Elizabeth Miller, will be working on the genetics of Greef’s giant gecko, supposedly the same critter on both islands…. but time will tell.

The Parting shot:

andrew-monte-cafe1

Andrew Stanbridge at Monte Cafe, Sao Tome. V. Schnoll phot–GG V

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund (GG I), Hagey Research Venture Fund (GG II) of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STeP UP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bonfim, 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 and Mariana Carvalho of Zuntabawe and Faustino de Oliviera, Curator of the National 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 Mrs. Sheila Farr Nielsen for helping make these expeditions possible. Tax-deductable donations in support of this work can be made to “CAS-Gulf of Guinea Fund.