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The Race: A New Species, Birds and Special Friends

Readers will recall our bryophyte expert, Jim Shevock, tireless companion on GG IV in 2010.  He is certainly one of the best field men I have met, and as I reported earlier, he collected around 700 specimens of mosses, hornworts and liverworts on São Tomé and Prìncipe.  The first fruit of his labors has just been published in the journal, Tropical Bryology; the description a new endemic species of moss from the island of São Tomé, a new species record for the island, and three new records for the country as a whole.

Jim with type

Jim Shevock with type of Porotrichum saotomense Enroth & Shevock- RCD phot.

The new species (of the Family Neckeraceae) is just the beginning.   Shevock and colleagues have another paper in press on the hornworts and liverworts (moss relatives) of the islands,  and the rest of the mosses are still being analyzed.  Jim expects many new species and records among this latter group, and all of this continues to show how rich and unique the biota of the islands is and at the same time, how poorly known.

Early readers of the blog will know that I only include experts on poorly-known groups of plants and animals on these expeditions. Thanks to the excellent doctoral work of Dr. Martim Melo, who employed molecular as well as morphological analysis, we know more about the birds of São Tomé and Prìncipe than any other vertebrate group and for that reason, we have never been accompanied by an ornithologist nor have I written much about them in this blog. That said, I must confess to being an unabashed birder of many years, a passionate bird “freak” with a life list that I keep on Facebook.

me birding

Birding on Principe – note puddle.  Desjardin phot.  GG III

The birds (avifauna) of these two islands are remarkable.  One of the commonest birds on São Tomé, even in the densely populated capital, is the endemic warbler, the São Tomé Prinia.  You cannot miss them and yet, I have never been able to photograph one– they just don’t stop moving!  So early in GG V I challenged my two colleagues, photographer Andrew Stanbridge and Poster Project Head, Velma Schnoll to take just one photograph of the critter.  Here are the results (bear in mind these were taken on the grounds of the Omali Lodge, the upscale hotel of our supporters, Africa’s Eden)—decide for yourselves who won:

Andrew Prinia

São Tomé Prinia,  Prinia molleri . A. Stanbridge phot GGV

velma's prinia

Prinia molleri – V. Schnoll phot  GG V

Martim Melo and his colleagues have suggested that, taken together, the islands of São Tomé and Prìncipe have, per unit area, the highest concentration of endemic (unique) species in the world!  Below is a simple comparison between the heavily studied Galapagos Islands with a surface area of 8,000 km2 and our islands with only 1/8th the size.

bird comparison

The comparison above only tells part of the story; the  twenty two species of endemic Galapagos birds are basically descended from but three lineages: the mockingbirds, the flightless cormorant and the famous Galapagos finches; this is not surprising, given the great distance between the archipelago and South America.  On the other hand, the endemic birds of São Tomé and Prìncipe are from all over the phylogenetic map: flycatchers, pigeons, weavers, sunbirds, warblers, etc. etc.  Moreover, some workers recognize up to seven endemic genera here.  Here are just a few:

forest weaver

São Tomé forest weaver, Ploceus sanctithomae. Weckerphoto GG III

Speirops

(l) Sao Tome Speirops, Zosterops lugubris; (r) Principe Speirops, Zosterops leucophaeus. RCD and J. Uyeda phots. GG III

Newtons sunbird

Newton’s sunbird, Anabathmis newtoni. Weckerphoto – GG III

thrush

Principe thrush, Turdus xanthorhychus.  J. Uyeda phot- GG II

P golden weaver

Principe golden weaver,  Ploceus princeps. Weckerphoto  GG III

There are many other spectacular endemics on both islands; I have mentioned the island phenomena of gigantism and dwarfism in earlier blogs.  São Tomé Island is also home to the world’s largest weaver (Ploceus grandis), the world’s largest sunbird (Dreptes thomensis) and the world’s smallest ibis (Bostrychia bocagei)!

Many people support our work in the islands, and as you know I acknowledge financial help at the end of each blog.  Still others are old friends who live on the islands through whom we work and who welcome and assist us on each expedition. These too have appeared many times in the blog and they include the people of the organization STeP UP, where it all started (Ned Seligman, Quintino Quade and Roberta dos Santos), and our friend, Sr. Arlindo Carvalho, Director General in the Ministry of the Environment.

Arlindo

Arlindo Carvalho, Ministry of the Environment.  A Stanbridge phot GG V

Dr. Carvalho told me that during the past year, he has shown this blog to delegates at a number of international meetings on Climate Change he has attended representing the Republic… a great honor for us.

GG V was unique in that it was dedicated to biodiversity awareness not pure science; because we were less in the bush and more in the inhabited areas, it led to our meeting some remarkable people who actually joined our efforts simply out curiosity about and interest in our activities.

eddie @ angolares

Velma Schnoll, Eddie Herbst and me at Angolares. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V

I first met Eddie Herbst at the Omali Lodge during GG IV where I gave one of my slide shows on island biodiversity.  Eddie was seriously interested in what we were doing at the time, and during GG V he actually joined us while we distributed our posters down the east coast of São Tomé (above).

But Eddie’s real job is senior pilot for Africa’s Connections, the small airlines that serves both islands and various mainland cities around the Gulf (he is also an ordained minister, but that is another story), and he is usually in the cockpit when we travel between the two islands.

Eddie Herbst

Eddie Herbst’s day job.   RCD phot GG V

During GG V, I asked Eddie if he could fly over a large mesa in the remote southwest corner of Príncipe, as I have always wanted to study the top and wondered about access routes.  I should mention that this is definitely not the usual approach route to the Prìncipe landing strip! To give you an idea of how rugged and difficult the southern part of the island is, below is a topographic image of this part of the island.

Bobke

Topo map of SW Principe. red and yellow dots on mesa.

as mesa

The mesa from the air.  RCD phot. GG V

And here is the view we got from Eddie’s flyover which, I might add, was an experience the other passengers will probably never forget!

On that same plane was a remarkable Portuguese couple, Frank and Ana. They were both fluent in English, warm and friendly, and we became friends almost immediately.

Frank and Ana

Ana and Frank on Principe.  RCD phot. GG V

Bear in mind that these two were full-paying guests at Bom Bom which is by far the most upscale and expensive venue on Prìncipe; yet rather than lying on the beach, or fishing or whatever,  Frank and Ana joined us each day as translators as we drove from school to school distributing our posters.  Through sheer good will and friendliness, they added greatly to the effectiveness of our small team.

F and A trans

Anna and Frank translating. A. Stanbridge phot.  GG V.

Believe it or not, also on Eddie’s plane was a fabulous lady named Marnie Saidi, also bound for Bom Bom Lodge  but not as a tourist.  Marnie is the new Project Manager for the Africa’s Eden Belo Monte project (which I will perhaps describe in another blog).  Like Frank and Ana, Marnie joined us for fun and acted as translator on our various daily tasks, including our meeting with the Regional President of Prìncipe, Toze Cassandra and the subsequent local television interview.

Marnie 2

Marnie Saidi translating during TV interview.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Marnie 1

Marnie Saidi and Velma Schnoll, Principe primary school. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

These serendipitous meetings were not limited to Prìncipe; during our final week on the big island we met a young Portuguese business man named Antonio Fernandes.  Just like Marnie, Frank and Ana, Fernando joined us on some of our longest poster trips during our last week… and I should mention he also had a functioning vehicle!. This is part of GG V I have not yet described.

antonio at ISP

Antonio, me and Quintino before ISP conference on Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Antonio trans

Antonio translating at Sao Tome secondary school. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Finally, individual personalities are very important on expeditions; a little friction now and then is to be expected but on a research expedition which is mostly out in the bush,  this matters somewhat less than on an expedition such as GG V.  We were in daily contact with the citizens, teachers, ministers and other government officials and each of us had to be goodwill ambassadors every hour of every day.

My colleagues on this trip, Velma Schnoll, who took over the poster project here in the States and brought it to completion, and Andrew Stanbridge, the world’s largest and sneakiest photographer were both exactly that and much  more.  They will be more than welcome back on the islands at any time.

at Monte Cafe

Andrew Stanbridge at Monte Café, Sao Tome.   RCD phot. GG V

me and velma

Velma Schnoll and me at Principe primary school.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V

Here’s the parting shot:

parting shot

“Education is an act of love and courage.”  Principe Secondary School, A. Stanbridge phot.  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, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll and Sheila Farr Nielsen for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: A Tale of Two Ties

The Hon. Toze Cassandra is the Regional President of Principe.  This older of the two islands is semi-autonomous within the Republic of Sao Tome and Principe.  President Cassandra is unforgettable; rather tall for these islands, he has a palpable  aura of dignified authority but it is strongly laced with kindness and humor.  The first time we met was during GG II when we were summoned to the presidential offices to pay our respects.  For obvious reasons, not one of us had a tie, which I learned later was required protocol inherited from Portuguese colonial times.  Since I could not officially enter his offices, Toze actually came out into the high-ceilinged hallway and met with us for half an hour; as I recall we ultimately ended up sitting on the floor.

The second formal meeting was last year during GG IV, and I made a major point of bringing a tie and a major point of letting him know that I had brought the damned thing all the way from the States just to meet with him! As I said he is a man of great humor.  Last year at this time, I described our summons, a couple of days later, to a beer party with his entire cabinet on a remote beach.

Yesterday we were due in his “chambers” at 3PM- we did not learn this until about 12:30 which is not a lot of leeway.  But, I was ready; a hand-painted frog tie (my sister-in-law does them).  The picture below is of tropical bioformal attire.

Velma our poster project coordinator cleans up just fine, but I had forgotten to bring a tie for our photographer, Andrew (who, by the way, is my nephew).  Trying to find a tie on Principe Island within an hour is just a skosh difficult. The new manager of Bom Bom Lodge, is a Frenchman, Francois Chapuis, so I figgered there was a chance… I got a long, languid, mildly amused look followed by, “Peut-etre, vous desirez un Hermes?”  No joy.  Now late, we roared up past the newly refurbished airport, stopped in front of a little wooden house on stilts, and our driver Joao, ran inside…we heard muffled exclamations.. he then emerged with a rather elegant, tasteful Brooks Brothers-ian blue tie!!

Down we raced to the central plaza. As we prepared to enter the palatial abode, I noticed a tall man on the street corner in shirt-sleeves, speaking ardently into a cell phone.  I caught his eye, and waved the bottom of my tie at him…a very broad grin in return.. it was of course, His Excellency President Toze Cassandra, totally tie-less!

The rest of our audience was delightful, as they always have been. It is probably best described in Andrew’s pictures below.. our posters and biodiversity message have been as warmly received here on Principe as they have been on the big island.



On the way past the airport we stopped at the little blue house on stilts… the gentleman within turned out to be the driver Joao’s brother. What he is doing with a tie of that quality on Principe I will probably never know, but now he also owns a unique hand-painted frog tie by Linda Raffel.  And Linda is undoubtedly the only Bay Artist with one of her pieces in the Gulf of Guinea Islands.

Here’s the parting shot.

See you soon!

all images © Andrew Stanbridge

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), STePUP 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 Loloumb of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, 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.”

The Race: Lunch on the Front Lines

The end of our first full week and today we had an alfresco lunch with Francisca. Francisca is the Director of the largest primary school on Sao Tome—she has over 2,000 students, and 57 teachers who work either a morning or an afternoon shift.  Very few supplies.. a big job. Lunch was set up in her front yard and despite the beginnings of rainstorm, we were protected (for a while) by huge trees overhead.

The menu began with an enormous bottle of White Horse scotch, and included sea snails, manioc, grilled fish of uncertain origin and other wondrous things.

The rain soon became untenable and we retired inside to discuss the use of images, posters, etc in her living room.  We gave her some images and some videos of local endemic critters to use in her school and anywhere else she wanted.  A delightful person and a typical representative of the devotion and enthusiasm of the Sao Tomean teachers we have met.  By later this afternoon the rain had flooded parts of the city; we drove past guys standing ankle-deep in the streets.

Tomorrow, we fly to the older island, Principe.  We greatly underestimated the number of biodiversity posters we would need here on the big island, so we have had to do some rationing.  In the meantime Andrew, our photographer, came up with a fabulous idea.  Here in town, we can cheaply print postcard-sized image collages to hand out to the kids.. about $60 for one hundred.. while these are not as flashy as the posters, the kids absolutely love them and it keeps our momentum going.. The ones we have done here say “Only on Sao Tome” in Portuguese, and this morning we printed another hundred for Principe with a similar message.

More from Principe.

Here’s the parting shot:

Carpe Diem! Poaching wireless from NGO offices down the hill.

all images © Andrew Stanbridge

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), STePUP 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 Loloumb of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, 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.”

The Race: The Sharing Begins

This is our seventh day.. and we have been to all the schools, ministries, health centers and public places we can find, giving our biodiversity posters to head masters, principals, ministers. etc. . We started at the southern end of Sao Tome on one side, the town of Santa Catarina and worked north; then Porto Alegre on the east coast, working toward the city. This morning we delivered posters to a number of the bigger town schools but then spent the afternoon hunting spiders in the garden of Henrique da Costa, former Minister of Agriculture and a dear friend and wise counselor. As to our main mission, how have our posters been received? I thought I would just post a number of images of our poster adventures, and you can decide for yourself!

poster distribution-5

And of course we had to jump back in the bush:

The Parting Shot:

all images © Andrew Stanbridge

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), STePUP 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 Loloumb of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, 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.”

The Race: We Return With Something To Share

GG V will be largely an educational mission to the islands, and there will be but three of us leaving in about two weeks time; that is, if we can get visas! At time of writing, the Embassy of São Tomé and Príncipe in Washington DC appears to be closed, and no one seems to know when it will open; assuming that it does and that things work out, we arrive in São Tomé on April 15th.

During GG IV, I showed lots of islanders a powerpoint series of ideas for posters illustrating the islands’ unique biodiversity. Everyone seemed excited about the idea. What better way to inform the citizens of the uniqueness of their islands than through beautiful pictures?

Showing poster powerpoint to Carlos Pinhiero and Daniel Ramos, Director of Principe National park. Principe airport. T. Daniel phot, GG IV.

Below is a finished product; we now have 200 of them of two different sizes and with five different messages, and we hope to deliver them to all of the schools and offices on both islands.


“ONLY ON SAO TOME”

When I first put the powerpoint presentation together, I thought that if the islanders liked them, producing the posters would be easy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it took an entire year. I need to thank all of the folks involved. The idea for the posters came out of the realization that we had two strengths nobody else had: (1) we were the only academic institution doing ongoing research on the islands (discovering new species, etc.); we had the latest information and we could identify what we were looking at and (2), we had hundreds of high quality images – not just typical tourist images of the gorgeous beaches and forests or the fantastic phonolite towers like Cão Grande, but pictures of most of the unique species of the islands from mosses, millipedes and marine critters to flowers, frogs, snakes and birds. Again, printing these in poster-sized collages seemed like a perfect way to inform the citizens of the uniqueness of their islands.

The majority of the images in the posters were taken by the two professional photographers who accompanied us.

Dong Lin (GG I, II) photographing the Principe puddlefrog, in Santo Antonio. RCD phot. GG I.

Dong Lin was Academy staff photographer for many years, and is now in private practice. He narrates his own remarkable photographic tour through North Korea on this website: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/flash_point/northkorea/

Wesley Eckerman (GG III) among giant begonias, Lagoa Amelia. phot. R Wenk- GG III.

Wes Eckerman is a professional photographer who lives in Santa Cruz California. Some of his beautiful imagery can be viewed on his website: http://www.weckerphoto.com/. We had no photographer on GG IV, but will be bringing another, Andrew Stanbridge, next month on GG V; his photographic website is at http://www.andrewstanbridge.com/.

Not all of our images were by taken by the pros; a number of them were by the scientists and grad students who have been expedition members, and herein was a problem I had not forseen– various images we most needed were of different resolutions, exposures, etc! So we could not just drag them into place and have them printed. Trying to figure this stuff out (I am not an artist) in the midst of pressing academic affairs nearly drove me to distraction. Enter Velma Schnoll and Jim Boyer.


Velma Schnoll, California Academy of Sciences.

Velma Schnoll is a very organized, very bright woman. She is the Academy’s Docent Coordinator and develops all of the tours that our Docents (volunteers) lead on our public floors. Velma loved the idea of our Gulf of Guinea work and literally took over organization of the poster project from me. And she soon found Jim Boyer.

Jim Boyer, California Academy of Sciences (all docents wear orange coats).

Jim Boyer, is one of Velma’s Academy docents and a retired graphic artist. Over several months the two of them organized the images and posters, making sure that we scientists proofed all of the identifications and ultimately came up with the final designs; without them, we would have no results.

I had decided early to have a minimum amount of writing on the posters (except for the main message at the top) in order to let the images speak for themselves. We even decided to exclude photographic credits, but it was clear that we needed to at least identify the organisms for those citizens who examined the posters closely. The scientists could provide the scientific and English names, but what about the local (Forro) or Portuguese names? For these we turned to island friends with whom we have been working for a long time and will continue to do so.

Some Folks of ABS

The Associação dos Biologos is an active group of both formally and informally trained citizens who are concerned with their islands’ biological heritage and anxious to learn as much as they can. The group is headed by Dra. Alzira Rodriques (upper left), who is also the President of the Polytechnical Institute of São Tomé, the only institution of higher learning on the islands. Other members include Victor Bonfim, Director of Conservation for the Ministry of the Environment (middle), Hugulay Maia (lower right), whom I introduced in the last blog, and Angus Gascoigne (upper right), one of the group’s founders. Angus has been among our most important advisors since the very beginning; he is an acknowledged expert on the land snails of the islands and is currently an instructor at the Polytechnic.

Zuntabawe people. Bastien Loloum and family (left) , Mariana Carvalho and family (right)

I first met Bastien Loloum at a biodiversity slide show I gave to a small group on São Tomé six years ago, and he has been a good friend and supporter of our research and educational efforts ever since. Bas is multilingual, married to Delicia Maquengo and is now General Manager of Zuntabawe, a local consulting firm specializing in ecotourism and environmental affairs. http://www.zuntabawe.net/. Mariana Carvalho (right), a PhD candidate from the University of Portugal, is Zuntabawe’s environmental advisor. Her doctoral research is on the endangered maroon pigeon, and she has already produced an enchanting biodiversity video for local schools. Both the Zuntabawe and ABS groups helped us with the vernacular names of critters, and we hope both will be involved in distribution of the posters after we arrive.

Once the poster designs were completed, the remaining issue was how to get them printed. Initial queries yielded estimates far out of our price range – bear in mind that GG III, IV and the up-coming GG V have all been funded through private donations, so financial resources are always a concern!


Christina Fidler, CAS library, with one of the large posters- we have 100 of this size, and 100 more of half this size.

Christina Fidler, Digital Project Manager in the Academy library suggested we contact Bayphoto, a large graphic operation in Santa Cruz, California that has worked with the Academy in the past, especially on library-related imagery.

The manager of the company, Larry Abitbol, graciously gave us a very large educational discount and as of last month, we now have 200 laminated posters to take over to the islands. I suspect the airlines weight charges will be substantial!

Once back on the islands our primary host will, as always, be STeP Up, … This NGO, based on São Tomé, focuses on education and training in agriculture, the environment, health, and income-generation; our interaction with STeP UP has not only opened up many, many avenues of communication for us, but we as scientists have been able to broaden the environmental scope and activities of the organization itself. http://www.stepup.st/.


Some of the STeP UP people: Faia (?), Ned, Danny. back row: Abade and Quintino

The funding for the posters originally came as a grant from the Goldman Fund of San Francisco to STeP UP; one of our tasks on GG V will be to work with STeP UP to find a similar, effective use for the funds remaining.

These particular island projects have taken on a special meaning to me personally, as has STeP UP; the opportunity to do something for a nation of people, no matter how small, is enormously attractive, and of course, the scientific discoveries we have made are exciting. But even though I had spent over three decades doing fieldwork in Africa, I probably would never have visited the islands in the first place had it not been for STeP UP. This NGO was founded and is run by exceptional people. Ned Seligman is a life-long friend; our families lived a few hundred meters apart in San Francisco, and it was at Ned’s insistence that I first visited in 2000, following a wildlife conference in Libreville. Although both of us had spent our careers in Africa, this was the first time we were on the continent in the same place at the same time. Ned introduced me to the head of ECOFAC and to officials in the Ministry of the Environment, and the next year, 2001, GG I took place.


Roberta dos Santos of STeP UP.

Roberta dos Santos, Ned’s counterpart, is from a venerable Sao Tomean family and knows virtually everyone on the islands. She spent three years in college in Buffalo, New York studying English (she first arrived in Buffalo in the dead of winter—she had never seen snow and probably had never been even chilly!!) and then taught for 20 years in the islands’ only high school. When Ned came to the islands as Director of the US Peace Corps, Roberta served as Assistant Director; later when Ned decided to return from directing the PC in Guinea-Bissau, they founded STeP UP. Roberta dos Santos was absolutely invaluable in introducing our own CAS Roberta Ayers (see earlier blogs) to the educational people and system on the island during GG IV, and she will be vital in getting the posters to the schools and other appropriate places during GG V. We also look forward to seeing another of the STeP UP crowd, Quintino Quade, an English teacher and our companion on so many bush adventures, from netting fish to dodging cobras.

So, leve leve! If things work out, the next blog will be from the islands!

The Parting Shot.

A deepwater port at Neves? What will happen to Rosema?

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), STePUP 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 Loloumb of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, 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.

The Race: On Rocket Frogs and Millipedes

First, some great news on the academic front.  One of the graduate student participants on GGI back in 2001 just completed his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Meet Dr. Joel Ledford, newly-minted world authority on spiders and explorer of Gulf of Guinea biodiversity.  In the picture below, he is holding “bubba,” one of the three endemic tarantula species of São Tomé.

DR. Joel Ledford with Hysterocrates apostolicus.   D. Lin phot. GGI

Readers of this blog already know that when we talk about biodiversity, we are talking about everything living, not just the big fancy stuff like birds and giant begonias.  Many of the secrets of island evolution are to be unlocked through the study of small organisms.   I have just received some preliminary news from Dr. Didier Van den Speigel of the Royal Central African Museum in Belgium.  After Dr. Rowland Shelley of the North Carolina State Museum did a preliminary analysis of our GG IV millipede specimens, we sent them to Didier, a specialist on this group in the Old World.  Rowland had concluded that we had at least one new species of the genus Globanus from each island.

A millipede (not Globanus) phot.  from cephalopodiatrist.com

Didier has examined material from other museums and has concluded that, in fact, the genus Globanus itself is endemic, found nowhere else in the world but the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe.  We are still unsure of how many species our GG IV material represents, but what seems evident at this time is that they are all each other’s closest relatives.  Drs Van den Speigel and Shelley are in agreement that this turns out to be the case, it would represent a “species swarm,” much like the endemic earthworms of São Tomé (see July 2010 blog “Nightmares….”, for an explanation).  The work continues……

In my memorial to Abade last month, I described one of our early unsuccessful  searches for Newton’s rocket frog during GG I.

Newton’s rocket frog, Ptychadena newtoni.  D. Lin phot.  GGI

This widely distributed genus of about 50 species is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and distinguished by a sharp snout, paired vocal sacs (lower arrow),  distinctive glandular ridges on the back (upper arrow) and very long legs.  In fact a member of this group from South Africa holds the world record frog jump of over 33 feet (10m)!  P. newtoni is one of São Tomé’s classic “island giants; at 76 mm (not including legs) a  São Tomé female is much larger than any specimens of mainland species on record.

After days of visiting known localities mostly in and near the town of São Tomé and finding them dry, heavily disturbed and frogless, one rainy evening two young boys led us to a vacant lot less than 200m from where we were living, and there were the frogs!   Ultimately, genetic analysis of these frogs established that they were, indeed, full endemic species, but also led John Measey, currently of South Africa, and a group of us to publish our rafting hypothesis in the Journal of Biogeography (2007 – see earlier blogs).

Our difficulty in finding this species in the northern lowlands of São Tomé (all of the known localities at the time) suggested to me that this may be the only endemic amphibian species on São Tomé that might be endangered due to human development.

Series of Ptychadena newtoni larvae from Java, Sao Tome.  RCD phot. GG II

However, during GG II we found a series of tadpoles at Java (elevation 595m) which we later determined belonged to this species (although no adults were seen).  Tadpoles are typically identified by various external characteristics, but especially by fine structures of the mouthparts. The drawings below are taken from a nearly completed manuscript that attempts to technically describe the tadpoles (larvae) of all the endemic island frog species; it has not been published because, even after all these years, we have still not found the larvae of the Príncipe giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus!

P. newtoni mouthparts from unpublished manuscript.

P. newtoni left lateral view from unpublished manuscript.

Our discovery of the Java larvae indicated that Newton’s rocket frog is not necessarily present only in the heavily developed northern lowlands.

Recently, a young biologist, Hugulay Maia, whom we first met during GG IV has found some new P. newtoni localities.

Hugulay Maia of ABS, doing tree work.  unknown photographer]

Hugulay is a member of Associação dos Biologos (ABS), a local group of biologists involved in biodiversity efforts on São Tomé. The group is led by Dr. Alzira Rodrigues of the Polytechnic Institute; other members you have met in this blog are Angus Gascoigne and Victor Bomfim.

Current P. newtoni localities: green = to 1992; pink = to date

Now, thanks to Hugulay’s observations (and photographs) we have a somewhat better idea of the distribution of Newton’s rocket frog.  Earlier known localities are in green and were published by a Swiss worker in 1992; our GG II Java locality and Hugulay’s new localities are in pink.  Hugulay’s data confirm that the species is not confined to the north.  He has observed it at Colonia Açoreana (labeled) and two more southerly spots, Angra Toldo Cavaleite and Roça Alinhança.

The data are still thin, but we can at least infer that Ptychadena newtoni is more widespread than originally thought.  Almost all of the mainland species breed in relatively still or slow-moving water, and it is reasonable to assume this is the case with Newton’s rocket frog.  All of the old localities (in green) are associated with lowland reaches of major water courses: the city localities are in the Agua Grande drainage; Hugulay Maia’s new records are all from the Ribeira Afonsa drainage, and the Diogo Vaz locality (green symbol in the NW) is from the small Agua Anambo, which parallels the larger, much faster Rio Maria Luiza to south.  Java our highest locality is on the Rio Abade, but the tadpoles were collected in a man-made pool in a roadside, partially dry creek bed, not in the river itself.   To assess the actual status of Newton’s rocket frog, I think we just need to look more closely in bodies of slow or still water along major rivers throughout the island.

The Parting Shot:

Dr. Joel Ledford: Spider hunters in repose. D. Lin 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, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: News from the Moss People

This month I had hoped to describe part of our island educational project but things have been too busy here at the Academy; our Fall calendars are always full as it is the beginning of the academic year in the US. We have also hit some snags on our planned São Tomé- Príncipe biodiversity posters. We have the funding (thanks to donors to STeP UP) and the imagery from our expeditions; in fact we have everything except a designer. In the March blog, I included two of the mockups which were among those we took to the islands; everyone we showed them to liked them very much. It turns out though, that producing 200 high resolution posters of large size is not an easy undertaking, but we are working on it. Below is one of my favorites:


“Only In Sao Tome!!” D. Lin phot – GGI

There is much to relate on many fronts including news of the millipedes which are currently with an expert in Belgium, the identity of the Príncipe shrew, Lisette’s work on cobra jita, etc., all which I must write about later.

If you follow this account, you have already met Jim Shevock, one of the foremost bryophyte workers anywhere, and you will recall that during GG IV, he made a huge collection of liverworts, hornworts and mosses.


[Jim Shevock with Afrocarpus mannii, Morro Provaz. T. Daniel phot – GG IV

Jim’s island collection represents an enormous amount of work and will take a long time to fully analyze, but here is a progress report from him:

“Of the 700 bryophyte collections made during GGIV, nearly 275 of them represent liverwort and hornwort specimens. The specimens obtained from these two taxonomic groups have now been named to species by two world experts residing in Dresden and Budapest who specialize in African liverworts. The results are very impressive. Prior to GGIV, the published liverwort and hornwort checklist contained 85 species for São Tomé and 33 species for Príncipe (20 species are shared between the two islands). We have now added 26 liverworts as “new” for São Tomé and 19 species as “new” for Príncipe.


Orthostichella sp. (hanging). Lagoa Amelia. J. Shevock phot – GG IV.

The next phase is to complete the identification process for the mosses collected during GGIV. We anticipate the data on the mosses will be similarly impressive. The currently published moss checklist for São Tomé contains 76 species and only 14 mosses are reported in the literature for Príncipe. We anticipate the moss species list to expand markedly. We already have a moss family to report as new not only to the Gulf of Guinea but to West Africa (the Symphyodontaceae); other African records are known only from Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Reunion Id. We have at least one species of moss new to science , and there will probably be more. All of the material obtained within the moss families Fissidentaceae and Neckeraceae are now identified to species, and in both cases, new taxa are documented for the country and from both islands. Some species will also be reported for the first time as occurring within West Africa. Based on the data obtained so far, the actual bryoflora of São Tomé and Príncipe is much richer than initially projected. Conducting these expeditions is but the first step toward the discovery of the biota of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Moss Fissidens ovatus and Begonia annobonensis, SW Príncipe. RCD phot – GG IV.

I posted a similar photo in the March blog when we thought the tiny flowering plant above might be an undescribed species of Begonia; we subsequently learned that this species is already known to science, but it is still possible that this southwestern Príncipe population may represent the smallest Begonia plant in the world. And, now we know that the rest of the rock is covered with the widespread tropical moss species, Fissidens ovatus.

The parting shot:


Santa Catarina buddies. Weckerphoto – GG III.

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor and Velma and Michael Schnoll for helping make these expeditions possible. Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: Shipboard Discoveries from a Good Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unidentified Pearlfish or Feiraster  [phot O. Alvheim 2010 ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Con-con [Iwamoto phot. 2010]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parting shot.

Old fishin’ buddies on Praia das Conchas, Sao Tome.  Weckerphoto GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor and Velma and Michael Schnoll for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to CAS – Gulf of Guinea Fund.

The Race: GG IV Updates and Surprises (plants)

This posting is long overdue, and my apologies to all three of you who read these; much has been happening at the Academy since GG IV returned in March.  I have given a number of lectures at the Academy and elsewhere on our island work, and I have one more to go at professional meetings in Capetown in a couple of weeks.  Both Dr. Tom Daniel and Jim Shevock have also spoken on our island work, and Roberta Ayres just gave a talk to the public on our Gulf of Guinea Islands Biodiversity Center idea.  Along with working on the material we brought back, we all have also been involved with a small exhibit on GGIV which has just been installed on the Academy public floor.

Gulf of Guinea Expedition IV exhibit –  RCD phot.

The screen on the right is an ongoing 10-15 minute narrated video, and the one on the left shows a continuous series of slides of the fabulous island critters and plants; a few of our preserved collections are displayed in the vitrine case in front.

The exhibit may look small but a lot of people will see it; the Academy reopened in September of 2008, and a couple of months ago we had our 2 millionth visitor. I took the picture below just a few moments ago.  It is a rainy day in San Francisco but all of those folks are waiting to get in!

Academy entrance: 19th May 2010; 1230 hrs- RCD phot.

Speaking of talks (and to continue from the point where I left off in the last posting), when we returned to São Tome from Principé I was invited by Dra. Alzira Rodrigues, the Presidente of  Instituto Superior Politécnico, to give an address on island biodiversity at that institution.  The ISP is the highest educational institution on the islands, although it is not a college or university per se.  Alzira is seated on the left, and the translator (with the microphone) is our old friend, Bastien Loloum, head of Suntabawe Ltd., an island consulting firm.  Bastien has been interacting with our GG teams for many years and has been a vital part of our future educational project.

March lecture at ISP, Sao Tome.   P. Anderson phot.

It has taken many weeks of work, but Tom Daniel came into my lab this morning with the news that our tiny Begonia from extreme SW Príncipe is probably not a new species; instead, it seems to be a species known also from São Tomé, tiny Annobon (southernmost  in the archipelago) and mainland Gabon called B. annobonensis.  There are some striking differences between these tiny flowers and the São Tomé material we have collected, but for now we prefer to remain conservative, name-wise.

My new flower passion. Morro Provaz.  T.Daniel, GG IV]

Moreover, the gorgeous yellow vine Begonia I fell in love with a few blogs ago turns out not to be B. macambrarensis, but rather B. thomeana ;  it occurs on both islands and also Annobon  but is absent from  Bioko.  I guess it’s OK that we got the name wrong.… she never calls, she never writes, anyway!

True identities: B. annobonensis (l) and B. thomeana (r)RCD,  T. Daniel phots, GG IV.]

Some very exciting news is that we collected a plant family never before recorded in the Gulf of Guinea Islands, a member of the Triuridacea!  Prior to GG IV, Sciaphila ledermannii was known only from Nigeria and Cameroon and considered quite rare.  We found this plant along streams in two remote parts of Príncipe.

Sciaphila ledermannii – New Family for the islands RCD  phot.GG IV

These entirely red plants lack chlorophyll and instead of manufacturing their own food by photosynthesis, they live off dead and decaying matter.  They are known as “holosaprophytes.” So far as we know, not only is this a new plant family, genus and species to add to the growing and impressive list of the biota of São Tomé and Príncipe, it is only the second saprophytic plant known from the oceanic Gulf of Guinea Islands; the other is an orchid species found on Annobon —  fun stuff! The distribution of this species is biogeographically intriguing, and I will address this in a later post.

TD Dr. Tom Daniel with prize.   RCD phot. GG IV

Remember Afrocarpus mannii, the big tree found only on the higher elevations of São Tomé and nowhere else? I wrote about it a couple of months ago as being one of our goals for GG IV in “Return to Paradise.”  In that post I included a map of the distribution of this tree and its closest relatives. Simply stated this island species is thought to be at least 2000 miles west of the rest of its group.  We found lots of them at about 1500 m, high up on a ridge called Morro Provaz on a steep trail totally missed by our earlier expeditions.  Tom Daniel got samples for DNA analysis, and we made a short video explaining the importance of the specimens.

Jim Shevock’s bryophyte survey (mosses and allies) finally reached over 700 collections, many species of which he is sure are new to either São Tomé or Príncipe, or perhaps both.  This was a monumental effort.

Jim Shevock at Lagoa Amelia  RCD phot. GG IV

He has sent some of these collections to specialist colleagues at Penn State University,  the Technische Universität in Dresden,  a colleague in Ady, Hungary, and two friends at the University of Helsinki, and we will await their findings.

There is much, much more to come, including millipedes, shrew updates and cool fish stuff.

The parting  shot .

Stayin’ close to home.  Weckerphoto, GG III.

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible.

The Race: GG IV. Once in a Lifetime!

It is probably not uncommon for many a field biologist to question himself about life choices he has made—like when he faces college tuitions, buying a new car… shouldn’t I have “gone for the bucks?,” the American Dream?” and so on. And then you get a 24 hour period like the one we just experienced, and it all becomes clear again.

Bom Bom Turtle Hatchery. RCD phot. GG IV

The building to the far left in the picture above is called the pool bar (you can just see the swimming pool). Just beyond is an extension of sand which is confluent with the beach and cove beyond. There is 1 to 2” edge to the grass turf along this small beach extension. Since there are no tourists here at the moment the pool bar is where we scientists eat with the staff (you can see the barbecue). At 7:35 we were just finishing yet another wonderful Indian dinner cooked by Shyju, our chef (and friend from GG III), when there was a commotion right behind us in the sand and Attie, the young man who waits tables came dashing up to our table with a hatchling sea turtle. A whole nest of sea turtles had just hatched with 30 feet of our dinner table!

wrong-way hatchling. RCD phot. GG IV

Quick-witted Attie grabbed a plastic bucket, and we began racing around catching them, because it became clear almost immediately that the little critters were going the wrong way. They were heading toward the pool bar (and us) rather than down the sand to the ocean, only forty or so feet in the other direction. In fact the only thing that was keeping them within the sand area was the steepness (to them) of the grass/sand interface; otherwise, I have no doubt that eventually they would have all ended up in the swimming pool (saltwater, this year, luckily).

Attie’s bucket of turtles. RCD phot. GG IV

We figure there were about 80 of them in the bucket, once we had them all. When, Attie took them down to edge of the surf and gently spread them out, they turned around, away from the ocean, and frantically made for the pool bar again. That’s when it became obvious that they were being attracted to the electric lights. So I stood in the surf, turned on my powerful halogen collecting light and that did the trick.. like little wind-up toys, they again all turned around again and paddled into the ocean..many swam past and brushed my feet… a wonderful tickly feeling I will never forget. I have no idea what species they were– I would guess either greens or hawksbills.. definitely not leatherbacks…maybe I will be able to identify them from the few pictures and movies I took… In all of our travels, neither Jim, Tom nor I had ever seen this.. and it just happened one night on an Academy scientific expedition…

Phonolite towers, east coast, Principe. RCD phot. GG IV.

This morning we went by boat down the east coast of Principe to the southern end of the island; there are no roads on the southwestern exposures of any of the Gulf of Guinea islands because that’s the direction the weather comes from…and has for millions of years—and these areas are just too steep and dissected.. also the most poorly explored. As you can see from the image above, the east coast of Principe speaks for itself… this is truly an ancient island.

Our conveyance in fishing cove. RCD phot. GG IV

Our intention was to explore the Rio Sao Tome, scene of the disastrous boat flip incident during GG III, wherein all of our equipment got soaked (we’re talking cameras, recording stuff, cell phones, etc.) This time the skipper was a local Principean, Argentino who deposited us safely in a small protected cove, adjacent to a two-man fishing village (!)

Ramos at Rio Sao Tome, Principe. RCD Phot. GG IV.

Ramos (above) has been our constant guide and local naturalist on Principe throughout both GG III and GG IV. He appears frequently in earlier blogs. You are probably tired of reading about our bryophyte guy, Jim Shevock, going nuts, but he did again. We are up to over 600 collections (both islands), and recall that only 14 species of mosses have been recorded from the islands. Jim says he has tripled that number.

The high point was Tom’s discovery on a mossy vertical bank of a truly tiny begonia. what might be the smallest begonia in the world.

Begonia sp. perhaps smallest?. RCD phot. GG IV

Tom has no idea what species it is (or even if it has been described) but is thinking it might be the smallest begonia in the world; and wouldn’t that be somehow perfect?… we already know that the world’s largest species, B. baccata, is endemic to Sao Tome!

The last event of the day was a rather unique State visit. Unfortunately, we have no photos of this, but we knew that the President, Tose Cassandra, was fishing somewhere here today.. on our way up the coast, Argentino suddenly turned inland to a beach, and there was the President and a whole bunch of guys in the surf, some with beers. When we got to about 20 or 30 meters of the shore, Ramos jumped in and swam to join them. Mr. Cassandra was sitting on a cooler up in the shade. Suddenly he yelled “Bobi, Come!” So I dove in and joined the group for an informal summit… what are you gonna do?. A total kick. And, by the way, the other folks were his entire cabinet. Winding down now, here on Prince’s Island.

The Parting shot:

Shyju, master chef, at work. Weckerphoto. GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible. Our island work can be supported by donations to the California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund.