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

No apologies for the Casablanca reference!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While in the field, Dr. Rocha wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parting shot:

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

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

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

THE RACE: Homage to “The Prince”

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

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

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(male)

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(female)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The RACE: SIZE MATTERS!

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

island size2

RCD construct.

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

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

BEGS

Begonia thomeana. T. Daniel phot. — GG

BUTT

African butterfly. Photo from  ARKives. Google Images

fros

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

drags

African dragonfly.  ARKive phot. Google Images.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elaeis guineensis

Bonnet oil palm seed. RCD phot. CAS botany specimen

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

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

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

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

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Tinhosa Grande.  A. Stanbridge phot. VII

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

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RCD construct

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tinhosas skink 2 (c) Ross Wanless

Tinhosa skink. (Trachylepis). Ross Wanless phot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parting shot:

parting shot

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

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

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

 













The Race: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)!

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

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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:

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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—We Reunite and Part Again

After two hectic weeks of education activities on São Tomé, Rayna Bell (Cornell University) arrived and the four of us joined the botanists, Tom Daniel, Jim Shevock, Miko Nadel, Tamas Szuts (our spider guy) and Andrew Stanbridge (our photographer) on Príncipe.   I  have asked Andrew, a veteran of three Gulf of Guinea expeditions, to illustrate some of what transpired while the group was divided.

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Our botany team, day one on Principe: Jim Shevock, Tom Daniel and Miko Nadel.

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Botany team en route to climb the mesa. Back left in the yellow hat is our guide Baloo.

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Jim on the “trail” to the mesa.

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Male Leptopelis palmatus found on the trail to the mesa. The females are the largest tree frogs in Africa.

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Tom discovers Principina, a unique sedge.

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Miko on top of the mesa

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Jim and Tom collecting specimens along the route to Roça Sundy.

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First Academy visit to the offshore island “Jockey’s Bonnet”.

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Bonnet seedeater, unique to the small island of “Jockey’s Bonnet”.

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Tom carrying specimens upriver.

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Tamas and “Bobby” Bronkhurst pooting spiders on Jockey’s Bonnet.   Here is the parting shot.

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  All images by Andrew Stanbridge 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.

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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.

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 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.

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  Velma Schnoll &Signe Mikulane return from the frog tree

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

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

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 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!

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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 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,

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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:

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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: Mountains That Glow

 

Drs. Brian Simison and Tomio Iwamoto and Roberta Ayres and Rayna Bell left early this morning on the TAP flight for home; five of us remain: our two botanists on Principe and three of us here on Sao Tome continue. It is time for a science update, especially since it is pouring rain as I write, and our biodiversity education mission on the big island is completed for now.

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Last week, and for the first time, Academy scientists collected the top of Pico do Sao Tome. At over 2,000 meters, the peak is remote and can be quite dangerous to ascend in the rainy season, especially carrying equipment. Our guys were able to accomplish this with help from our friends, Andre Reis, Hugo Serodio and Antonio Fernandes. Andre runs Tropic Ventures, a new company that provides various tourist activities including car rentals, water sports, etc but they also take on really hairy missions into the interior of the island. Andre is ex-military (Portuguese) and his company, equipment and skills are very, very good.

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After a postponement due to the rains, Jim Shevock, Miko Nadel, and our photographer Andrew Stanbridge made two-day ascent, collecting all the way.

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Those who know Jim Shevock, the Academy’s moss expert, will not be surprised to learn that he went nuts. I have no idea how many moss specimens he got nor how many are new, but to say he was enthusiastic upon their return would be a gross understatement.

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But the neatest discovery was made by Miko Nadel, our lichen grad student from San Francisco State. Sitting and eating dinner in the darkness, Miko looked down and thought he saw Andrew’s wristwatch on the ground, glowing at his feet. What he soon discovered was not Andrew’s watch but a patch of bioluminescent mushrooms!

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Miko’s graduate advisor, Dr. Dennis Desjardin, a world authority on mushrooms, was with us on GG II and GG III and made the first comprehensive survey of both islands. But , curiously, Dennis (a Fellow of CAS) has recently been doing cutting edge research on bioluminescent mushrooms! So I waited until Dennis gave his OK, before posting Andrew’s images of these remarkable fungi. As usual, we will not know what all this means until we return to CAS for analysis. That is how science works.

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Rayna Bell’s mission was to examine the possible hybridization between the Sao Tome giant treefrog, Hyperolius thomensis and the oceanic treefrog, H. molleri. We have had genetic and phenotypic hints that this might be happening for some time now. Rayna’s PhD thesis at Cornell is on the evolution of sexual dichromatism in African treefrog species.

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It looks as though hybridization is indeed going on between the two species at about 800 to 900 meters. Rayna was able to get samples of the giant frog at 1400 meters and then sampled “downhill” at various elevations to nearly sea level, in oceanic treefrog territory. We had great help from Joao Pedro Pio, a young Portuguese friend who is working on the endemic maroon pigeon; lucky for us, he loves adventure and frogs. Rayna is tireless, bright and fun to be with; but among us bush herpetologists, the real test is how one does in the boonies. She is wonderful; I was proud to have her along with us.

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And by the way, last night (Rayna’s last), she and Andrew visited the “magic tree” where we have always found the giant treefrog.. they came in about midnight, and told me that as they sat next to the tree, waiting for frogs, the entire forest floor around them was aglow!

It is still raining and outside my door, a Sao Tome prinia is hopping around in the bushes; I will let Andrew’s pictures speak of Tomio Iwamoto and Brian’s adventures in Micoló catching mudskippers and pipefish.

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The Parting Shot:

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all photos by Andrew Stanbridge

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 collectexport specimens for study. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have 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 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,John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. Logistics and lodging for GG VI (Omali Lodge and Bom Bom Island) were kindly provided by HBD.

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

The Race: Gulf of Guinea VI. First week.

Having completed my lectures at CIBIO near Porto, and in the symposium on Sao Tome and Principe in Lisbon, I hooked up with Drs Tomio Iwamoto, Brian Simison, and James Shevock, Miko Nadel and our outstanding photographer, Andrew Stanbridge in the Lisbon airport whereupon we paid gobs of money in overweight charges to TAP airlines (coloring books). The first six of us arrived at the Omali and have been working in various sites for a week until we were joined by Rayna Bell on the Friday morning flight. Rayna is the Cornell grad student who is looking at some interesting genetic problems with the treefrogs here. Early on I paid visits to Arlindo Carvalho, Director General of the Ministry of the Environment and Victor Bonfim, Director of Conservation to pay our respects and request our authorizations.

All of the photos below are by Andrew Stanbridge.

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The first six of us; lunch at Angolares, southeast Sao Tome

So far, we have found no limpets! Small barnacles, yes; marine mollusks, yes; but no true limpets. Brian is pretty much sampling everythingbut his specialty critters do not seem to be here.Whether or not there is some chemical feature of the volcanic rock that renders the rocks uninhabitable remains a question.Perhaps Principe willbe different.

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Brian Simison (right) searching rocks on Sao Tome west coast.

Jim Shevock has already found two bryophyte families new to the islands, both on the Macambrara road at about 1100 meters. This is Jim’s second trip; in GG IV, he made some 800 collections, so this is stuff we missed.

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Jim reaching for hanging bryophytes on the Rio Abade

Miko Nadel, our grad student from San Francisco State, is conducting what we think is the first lichen survey ever of these oceanic islands- so everything is kind of new.

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Miko with captured lichen; on the road to Sao Nicolau.

Tomio Iwamoto, veteran of GG I and II is working closely with the Department of Fisheries and an NGO called MARAPA to produce a guide primarily for the local fishermen.

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Tomio inspects catches near Agua Ize

Yesterday, after Rayna’s arrival, we went up to inspect the large Olea tree which is our one locality for the unique Hyperolius thomensis. Like last year, we found no adults but there were old egg masses in both tree holes, and definitely tadpoles in one of them. The rains are upon us, and we are hoping that during the next couple of weeks the other smaller green species will appear. We are being assisted by old friends and a new one, a young Portuguese graduate named Joao Pedro Pio who works with Mariana Carvalho on the endemic maroon pigeon. I think Rayna and I, Pedro and a local guy from Nova Moca will go up at night to Lagoa Amelia (nearly 1500 meters) to try to collect Hyperolius molleri.

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Andrew Stanbridge continues to take brilliant pictures. He is much more of an asset to us than just his fabulous shots.

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Andrew with Bode, famed resident of the remote Bombaim. Bode sings the Portuguese national anthem in a truly appalling voice and sells cobra skins. (photo: Brian Simison)

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Me, bargaining for a side-necked turtle (Pelusios castaneus) at Ribeira Afonso

Tuesday, the two botanists and Andrew will go up to the top of the Pico, an area we have never collected. We are being taken there by our friends from Tropic Ventures, Andre, Hugo and Maneh. At the same time, Rayna and I will go out to Rolas Island to look for caecilians.They were collected on the island many years ago and we wish to add them to our genetic map of this unique species.

Here’s the parting shot.

parting-shotImagine thousands of hectares of oil palm between this boy and Cao Grande. It is happening.

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 collectexport specimens for study. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have 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 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, John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. Logistics and lodging for GG VI (Omali Lodge and Bom Bom Island) were kindly provided by HBD.

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

The Race: GG VI, Part I (the Science)

Things have been very busy here at the Academy of Sciences, and this is one of my tardier blogs! However, part of the hustle and bustle has been in planning our next expedition, Gulf of Guinea VI.

The first good news is that our new species of gecko from Príncipe is about to be formally published in the African Journal of Herpetology, possibly as soon as April. It is bad luck to give you its name before it is published, but here is what it looks like, and we are adding yet another endemic species to our wonderful islands!

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Our new gecko near Bom Bom, Principe.  Weckerphoto- GG IV

As readers know, our expeditions have largely been privately funded since GG III, and the friends who have helped us are always celebrated in the PARTNERS section below.  However, I am going to take this early opportunity to thank the folks who are making the upcoming expedition financially possible: The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Bernard S. Schulte, John S. Livermore, John and Judy Sears and Elton Welke.

Here are the scientist participants in the upcoming GG VI which will run from 30 March until 5 May.

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Dr. Tomio Iwamoto on Sao Tome.  D Lin phot- GGI

Dr. Tomio Iwamoto is Curator Emeritus of our Ichthyology Department, and my good friend and flyfishing buddy.  He is a veteran of GG I and GG II and has already published two scientific papers as a result of these expeditions. He has also worked with São Tomé and Príncipe fisheries people in deepwater trawling around the islands (see Shipboard Discoveries….June 2010 blog).  During GG VI he wants to visit as many local fishing villages as he can on both islands to see what the most commonly caught fishes are.  His goal is to produce a popular guide for the fishermen themselves! This will not be a scientific publication.

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A Longfin crevalle jack described to science only five years ago. Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge phot- GG V

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Dr. Brian Simison; limpet photo by  T. Laupstad]

Dr. Brian Simison is a world authority on small monovalved molluscs known as limpets, commonly found firmly attached to rocks in the coastal littoral zones.  So far as we know, this group has never before been sampled in São Tomé and Príncipe, and our expectations for new discoveries are high.

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Crocidura tomensis, the Sao Tome shrew. Phot by Ricardo Lima, 2010

Brian is alsoDirector of the Academy’s  Center for Comparative Genomics which is where all our genetic and molecular work is done.  He became involved in our molecular test of the true status of the endemic São Tomé shrew (see Unique shrew…. August 2010 blog).  Working with Eden Maloney, he discovered that the shrew on Príncipe, long thought to be a mainland species, may indeed also be an endemic to that island.  While we collected DNA of this second shrew during GG II, we collected no adults.  Assuming we receive permission from the Ministry, Brian and I will also try to secure a couple of adult Príncipe shrews. If this is indeed a unique species, we will need to be able do describe its anatomy formally.

Two graduate students will be joining us.  The first is Rayna Bell who is doing her PhD on African tree frogs at Cornell University.

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Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius thomensis (phot RCD- GG I); Rayna Bell

Rayna will be looking at a potential hybrid zone between the oceanic tree frog (above, Hyperolius molleri) and the flambouyant São Tomé giant tree frog, H. thomensis of higher elevations, which I have featured in many of these blogs.  There is something curious going on with the genetics of these species and one of Rayna’s projects will be to look at both populations from the molecular perspective.

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Miko Nadel and lichens (from web)

Our other graduate student is Miko Nadel, who is doing his MSc in botany at San Francisco State University under the guidance of our favorite mycologist, Dr. Dennis Desjardin, describer of the now infamous Phallus drewesi of São Tomé.  Recall that Drs. Desjardin (GG II & III) and Perry (GG III) learned that over 33% of the mushrooms of São Tomé and Príncipe are new to science.  Miko informs me that there have been only a couple of scientific papers ever written on the lichens of the islands, and that was back in the 1880’s.  So it is time for a more modern and thorough look at this flora.

Finally, we round the scientist group out with the irrepressible Dr. James Shevock, the Academy’s bryophyte (mosses and their allies) expert.

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Jim Shevock with moss at the Omali.  RCD phot-GG IV

The results of Jim’s efforts during GG IV are summarized in the image below.  The largest uptick of new species for the islands is expected in the third paper, which we hope will be published this year.

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Compilation and photo by RCD, GG IV

As in GG V, the new expedition will be accompanied by the world’s largest photographer, Andrew Stanbridge.  His images from GG V are magnificent, and he is a most excellent and willing field companion. His work can be viewed on the web at www.andrewstanbridge.com


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RCD and photographer Andrew Stanbridge. V. Schnoll phot – GG V

There will be two additional members of GG VI, both veterans of earlier expeditions,  Ms Velma Schnoll and Ms Roberta Ayres, but I will reintroduce  them in more detail in the second part of this blog which will be on our concurrent biodiversity education activities.

The parting shot:

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The Jockey’s bonnet, Principe. Photo by Eddie Herbst – 2011

[Herbst]

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 export specimens for study.  Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have 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, Sheila Farr Nielsen, Corinne W. Abel and Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, Bernard Schulte, and John S. Livemore.   Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: In Defense of the Road Less Traveled

In Memory of Rebecca C. Wenk: 1979-2011

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Bom Successo Botanical Gardens, Sao Tome. (Weckerphoto. GG III)

When asked what one does for a living, many can easily respond with but one of three simple words: “medicine, law, or business.”  The societal value of these career paths is constantly reinforced and requires no embellishment nor further explanation.  Since our dads and moms (or grandparents) came home from WWII, these professions and their variations have been the tried and true paths to property, prestige and power: the “American Dream.”

But there are some among us for whom the goals of the American Dream are simply irrelevant.  While I doubt there is a single biologist anywhere who would not love to have the freedom of economic security, in truth this is simply not as important to us as doing what we love – that which fascinates us and keeps us in a constant state of active curiosity and quest.  I firmly believe that for most of us, this obsession is innate; we are born with it, and our profession chooses us, not the other way around.

So our response to the question is frequently troublesome, especially when it gets to the inevitable: “Why?”  “Why do you spend your life studying weird plants? or African frogs? or spiders? or diatoms?”  An honest response to this would be, “because I love it,” but we don’t say this because as Americans, it would make us seem selfish, immature and even an impediment to mainstream progress.  And, of course, the unspoken question is really:  “What good is it? What does it do for ME?”

Describing our values and feelings to others who lack our passion is nearly impossible–there is simply no emotional shared frame of reference, but I can at least say this: based on my own life experience, there is simply no joy on earth that can compare with the thrill of academic discovery… I don’t just mean finding a new species (exciting, yes, but a pain to describe scientifically!);  I also mean discovering a new relationship, or a new connection, or arriving at a new concept.  This “Aha!” moment transcends all other emotions I have ever experienced.  In 2008 during the Gulf of Guinea III expedition, I learned that watching the thrill of discovery happen to a young student for the first time is just as wonderful as experiencing it myself.

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Rebecca among the world’s largest Begonia, Lagoa Amelia.  (T Daniel phot. GG III)

Rebecca Wenk was a curatorial assistant in the Academy’s Botany Department and also the graduate student of Dr. Tom Daniel, curator of Botany, my colleague and companion on a number of Gulf of Guinea island expeditions.  Rebecca’s Master’s project at San Francisco State University was a study of a group of plants, one rare species of which was found on Sao Tome and Principe, and so her advisor Tom brought her along with us on the GG III expedition.   Rebecca REALLY needed this plant!

She was a real character.  The fact that she was the only female among the seven of us did not inhibit her in the least.  As a member of an academic family, she was not at all shy about challenging each and every of us at one time or another and usually in a voice that commanded attention – a quite memorable voice, at that.  She was a fine boonie rat, tirelessly collecting and pressing plants but also joining in the various activities of the rest of us.

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Rebecca visits the mycologists, Drs. Perry and Desjardin as they prepare mushroom collections,  Principe  RCD phot. GG III]

Our first week and half on the larger island of São Tomé was full of adventure and highly successful for all us; we collected up and down the central mountain, the west and east coasts, but Rebecca could not find her plant.  Later the group flew to the smaller, much older island of Príncipe. During GG I and II, we had no transport on Príncipe, and thus had not been able to sample this fascinating island in any detail.  GG III was the first year we were offered the logistical support of Africa’s Eden, an ecotourism company that owns two fine lodges, the Omali on São Tomé and Bom Bom on Príncipe. The company also has fishing boats and vehicles on both islands allowing us access to remote areas otherwise inaccessible.

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The Red Truck; Ramos, Dr. Perry and Wes Eckerman.  (R. Wenk phot. GG III)

Bom Bom resort drove us around in an open red truck with benches in back, on roads and trails we had not known existed.  They also furnished us with Ramos, a guide who soon became a good friend and supporter on all of our subsequent expeditions.  On our first full day, Ramos drove us up a very steep, rather scary road to his roça (plantation), high on Pico Papagaio (Parrot Peak).

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Pico Papagaio in background, south of Principe Airport.  (R. Wenk photo GG III)

As we were slowly proceeding up the track, at about the 300 m level, Rebecca let out a series of shrieks, leapt out of the truck and prostrated herself on the steep, downhill side of the road!  She had found her plant, Elytraria marginata! It is important to note here that Rebecca saw and found it herself; no one brought it to her, and none of us probably would have noticed it, even Dr. Daniel!   This little population of Elytraria was the only one we found during all of GG III.  To this day, there is no consensus among those of us witnesses as to what words Rebecca was actually screaming, but we are all agreed that it was in sheer joy.

I have a series of pictures of Rebecca racing around at the discovery site, hooting and hollering, but the best image of all is this one, taken by Wes Eckerman, our photographer:

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Rebecca with her “questing beast,” Elytraria marginata!  (Weckerphoto GG III)

Shortly after the discovery, we reached Ramos’ plantation and had lunch; the glow of Rebecca’s “aha” moment is still obvious on her face (and also on the face of her adviser, Dr. Tom Daniel!)

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Post discovery lunch at Roca Papagaio. (Weckerphoto GG III)

Two years later, Rebecca C. Wenk was awarded her MSc degree in Botany from San Francisco State University, and in the next year, her dissertation was formally published:

Rebecca C. Wenk and Thomas F. Daniel. 2009. Molecular Phylogeny of Nelsonioideae (Acanthaceae) and Phylogeography of Elytraria. Proc. C. A.S. 60:53-68.
This paper is considered an important contribution to our understanding of this group of shrimp plants and according to Tom Daniel, it has stimulated additional work by others; this is one of our goals as scientists.

Rebecca was a fine botanist with a good and inquiring mind and a bright future; a career in academia was certainly one of her options should she have chosen it.  But only a couple of weeks ago Rebecca Wenk died of cancer, suddenly and tragically, at the age of 32.  All of us at the Academy feel her loss deeply; the Department of Botany where she worked is especially bereft.  Those of us who were with her during her special moment on the remote island of Príncipe in 2006 feel particularly blessed to have been witness to it.

The parting shot.

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Loss.  Praia Mutamba (Shipwreck Cove), Sao Tome.  (J. Ledford phot GG I)

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 export specimens for study.  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”.