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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

April 29, 2014

THE RACE: GULF OF GUINEA VIII NEARS COMPLETION

Our eighth expedition has been a very different one; except for GG V this has been our only all-education mission.  Readers will recall that our biodiversity awareness program began in 2010 when we assessed the curriculum for biology in school across both islands. Then we began annual distribution of educational materials to a cohort of 2,000 third graders in widely separated schools on both islands.  These kids are now in the fifth grade and will move on to different schools next year, so this has been our last meeting with them.

Below are a series of images of our activities over the past three weeks; most are by our indomitable and brilliant photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, who returned to Europe a couple of days ago.  I, Velma Schnoll, our Education Project Director and Roberta Ayres, our Senior Science Educator, remain to finish GG VIII.

RD RA and Toze

Our yearly meeting with Hon. Pres. Jose Cassandra of Principe. Filling him in on our activities in the schools.

Presenters

In each classroom we make a standard presentation of our materials and explain their meaning; in this case the biodiversity booklets.

RA in Class

Roberta Ayres, Senior Science Educator, describing the book in Portuguese.

VS pass out books

Velma Schnoll, Education Project Manager, handing out booklets to students.

Students read

This year we asked the teachers to choose two students to read selected passages from the booklet to the rest of the class.

Student 4

Students 8

Some of these classrooms are really crowded.

P Workshop

On Saturday, April 12, we gave a public lecture/teacher workshop on the more advanced concepts behind the biodiversity booklet. There were over 55 in attendance, including the President and the Secretary of Education for Principe.

P TV Interview

Usually after large presentations we are interviewed by the local television stations and these always appear a day or two later on the six o’clock news!

Poster still up 1

A continuing joy to us is to find our materials presented in years past. We brought these posters in 2011 on GGV. We think their continued presence and use are a testimony to the effectiveness of our program.

RdS and students

Roberta Dos Santos of StepUp, Education Liaison.

IMG_0839

Quintino Quade of StepUp, Education Liaison. Without strong support of Sao Tomeans like Quintino and Roberta since the very beginning in 2000, we would not have been able to carry on the Gulf of Guinea Expeditions. Here, Quintino and I are presenting to a classroom in Sao Tome a few days ago.

Here’s the parting shot.

Students 7Taking the message home.

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 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 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 and GG VIII. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”


March 5, 2014

The Race: The Amphibians of Sâo Tomé and Príncipe, and the Eighth Expedition

The Biodiversity Education team has been hard at work on our product for GG VIII, of April, 2014.  The 2000 students we have been visiting since the 3rd grade are now in the 5th grade and will be moving on next year, so this is our last visit with them.  We have produced a slightly more technical biodiversity booklet (livreto) for each of them. This cohort represents slightly more than 35% of the island studentsin their age group.

bio reader small

NOSSAS PLANTAS E ANIMAIS ESPECIAIS.

 

2014 BioTeam

The Bio-education team in my Lab: Roberta Ayers (senior educator, and translation – on Skype), Velma Schnoll (Project Manager), Lindzy Bivings (education advisor),Jim Boyer (art work and layout), Tom Daniel (science text).Absent: Mike Murakami (graphics), me..

Just recently a great new book was published called The Monkey’s Journey, by Alan de Queiroz.  An entire chapter (6) is based on our hypothesis as to how amphibians and many of the other unexpected, endemic animals originally crossed over to the islands from the mainland.

alans book

One of us has made an exciting discovery recently (see below) which prompts me to reacquaint readers with the amazing amphibian fauna of Sâo Tomé and Príncipe.  As readers already know, there should not be any amphibians on these islands at all;  they are true oceanic islands which have never been attached to the African mainland, and amphibians have no tolerance for saltwater. There are no native amphibians on the Galapagos or the Hawaiian Islands for this reason. Yet, there are seven species on our islands, possibly eight – all unique and found nowhere else in the world!  The most unlikely of these is the famous “Cobra bobo” of Sâo Tomé.

Q hand shot

Cobra Bobo in the hands of Quintino Quade of Sao Tome. D. Lin phot – GG I

live bearing and collage

 Upper left, unknown phot, upper right, RCD GGI, lower, R. A. Nussbaum

The cobra bobo (Schistometopum thomense) is a caecilian, part of a group of amphibians only distantly related to frogs and salamanders. They are found almost exclusively in the Old and New World Tropics. About 25% of the 200 species lay eggs, the rest, including our cobra bobo give birth to living young (see above).

unique chars

Although they look very much like earthworms, caecilians have backbones, teeth and a vertebral columns. (above lef-UCL photot). Most are burrowers although some are aquatic, but all caecilians lack legs, tails and have reduced eyes, and they are the only amphibians that have sensory tentacles located on each side of the head, between the nostril and the eye (above right – different species-J. Measey phot.).  These are protruded to sense prey items and the environment.

The cobra bobo is widespread under moist leaf litter, old banana stems, etc from sea level to as high as 1400m, at Lagoa Amelia. Although they are totally harmless, they are widely feared by the islanders, which is the reason we use a cobra bobo cartoon for our expedition logo (see earlier posts). We are attempting to demystify it. One of the most interesting things about this endemic species is the distribution of its closest relative.

schisto dist.

Note that several thousand km separate the two known species; the red ? indicates a single old specimen in Brussels from the Ituri region of Zaire that might also be a member of the same genus.

A frog unique to Sâo Tomé is Newton’s rocket frog, Ptychadena newtoni. There are over 50 species recognized on the African mainland, but this endemic is by far the largest of the genus, with females attaining lengths of over 60mm. This qualifies Newton’s rocket frog as a true “island giant.”

adult Ptychs

Newton’s rocket frog. above phot RCD- GGI, below A. Stanbridge,-GGVI

Early records suggested it is a frog of streams and rivers in the northern lower elevations, but we have found its larvae as high as Java, at 600m, and in recent years, Hugualay Maya of ABS has discovered the species in river drainages farther south down the west coast. (pink markers).

P newtonii localities

Known localities for Newton’s rocket frog. RCD construct

Frog larvae (or tadpoles as they are often known in English) are used in identification of species by scientists, as well as the study of adults and are formally described.

newtoniX

Ptychadena newtoni.  above, whole larva; below are mouthparts] drawings -Dylan Kargas.

An extremely interesting fact about Newton’s rocket frog is the location of its closest relatives.  Like the cobra bobo, the species of Ptychadena genetically closest to our island frog are eastern species, not Central or West African.

ptcy dsit

This study included 108 rocket frog samples from all over sub-Saharan Africa, including the Nile drainage, Madagascar and the Seychelles.

Another endemic island giant is Príncipe’s giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus. In fact, the first specimen ever collected and described nearly 150 years ago was a female measuring 110mm from snout to between the legs. This is the largest ever recorded for the genus.  The largest specimen we have collected was a 108mm female, during GG I near Sundi.

large female

 Sundi female of 108mm. D. Lin phot-GG I

big lepto and male

Left:  same female, R Stoelting phot. GG I; right: Pico Papagaio male, just after calling.  Weckerphoto GG III

There are a number of strange things about this species; the females are usually always dark to dull green, while the males come in a great range of color patterns, some quite bright (polychromatic- see below). Moreover, the largest males are usually less than half the size of the females (above and below).  While we were the first to record its call, this is the one species on both islands for which we have no data for eggs or larvae. Most large females have been found in the lowlands of Príncipe, while males seem to be common up to 700m on the Pico.

polychromatism

Three males and a juvenile Principe giant tree frog.  J. Ledford phot- GG I

lepto nearest

Distribution of the Príncipe giant tree frog and its closest mainland relative, L. macrotis.  This may suggest that the ancestor of both rafted from the Niger River delta into the Gulf of Guinea.

Both islands have small species of puddle frog, Phrynobatrachus, that are widely distributed on both islands in leaf litter, and breed in temporary puddles of water. Both island forms were thought to be the same species (they are tiny and remarkably similar to the untrained eye) until we discovered that they were genetically quite distinct species with physical differences.

dispar principe

The Príncipe puddle frog, Phrynobatrachus dispar, can be found in wet areas from sea level to the top of Pico do Príncipe. While we have its larvae and eggs, we have not yet described them. D. Lin phots-GG II.

leveleve comp

The Sao Tome puddle frog, Phrynobatrachus leveleve  is very similar in appearance to the Príncipe species but there are great genetic differences and physical differences as well.  Like its relative on Príncipe, it is broadly distributed in wet areas from sea level to very high elevations. RCD phots, GG VI.

Its larval characteristics can be seen below.

leveleveX

Drawings: Dylan Kargas

Like the other amphibians, the distribution of the nearest relatives of our two island puddle frogs is intriguing.

phryno phylo

According to a recent study, Príncipe’s puddle frog, P. dispar is most closely related to a population in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, and together their nearest relative is P. leveleve of Sâo Tomé. The interesting thing to notice is that all of the other members of this lineage, called a clade and defined by the purple box, are East African species.  This is reminiscent of the rocket frog and cobra bobo distributions.

Returning to island giants, we have the Sâo Tomé giant treefrog, Hyperolius thomensis. There are well over 200 species of this genus known from the African mainland, and females of this Sâo Tomé endemic are by far the largest at just under 50mm.

thom adult 2

D. Lin phot- GG I

thom adult1

D.Lin phot. GG – I

 thom amplexus

Breeding pair of Sao Tome giant treefrog. D. Lin phot, GG II

This large flamboyant tree frog appears to largely be a tree canopy dweller.  We have discovered that eggs are laid in water-filled holes in trees (phytotelmata). They can be heard calling from treetops but are extremely difficult to locate; in fact all of our specimens have come from a single locality at around 1100m; we monitor this locality every year and keep its exact location a secret.  We have described the larval characteristics, below.

Hyperolius thomensis tads

 Drawings by Dylan Kargas

Our last endemic species is closely related to the Sâo Tomé giant tree frog, although it is much smaller and not so brightly colored: Hyperolius molleri, the oceanic tree frog. Since our work began, it is the only remaining amphibian that has been thought to inhabit both Sâo Tomé and Príncipe.  In fact, years ago an early intern of mine, Katie Marshall, compared the two populations using mitochondrial genes and found no significant differences between them; they are certainly extremely similar morphologically ( see below).

2 molleris

Above, Weckerphoto GG III; below, RCD phot GG I

Recent work by Rayna Bell, our Cornell colleague (GG VI, VII) included a reanalysis of the two populations with more advanced technology, and indications are that the two populations may be quite distinct genetically. If this turns out to be the case, the Príncipe population will require much closer morphological examination and redescription, bringing the total number of endemic amphibians on our islands to eight!

While this small green tree frog appears to be a lower elevation dweller on Príncipe, on Sâo Tomé it reaches at least 1400m and can be heard calling at Lagoa Amelia. Like most other members of the genus, eggs are laid on leaves above water, the developing tadpoles ultimately wiggling out of the jelly mass and falling into the water for further development.  We have studied the larvae of the big island form (the original Hyperolius molleri- the species was described based on a specimen from that island) and the characteristics are below.

Hyperolius molleri ST

Drawings by Dylan Kargas

The team leaves for the islands in early April; our mission for GG VIII will largely be on biodiversity education as I mentioned in the beginning, but we will continue to post on our progress while there.

Until then, here is the parting shot:

b-b kingfisher Bronkhorst

The brilliant Blue-breasted kingfisher of Principe Island.  Photo by Michael “Bobby” Bronkhorst, 2014

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 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 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 and GG VIII. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”


December 10, 2013

The Race: Another New Species and Contributions from our Citizen Scientists.

Colleagues in London, Drs. Simaikis and Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum, have just published a paper on centipedes that includes some very old specimens from São Tomé and Príncipe collected as early as the 1930’s.  Among the material, they discovered a new. presumably endemic species.

both Otostigmus

Meet Otostigmus coltellus (left), from Zootaxa 3734 (2013). For scientific purposes, only the parts of the animal that are important for identification are published; the photo on the right  (RCD phot – GG II) may or may not be an Otostigmus but it would look something like this.  I am told they are difficult to identify unless you look at underparts, but as all islanders know, these centopéias can deliver a painful, sometimes dangerous bite.  So far, the new O. coltellus is known only from Ilheu Rolas and Zampalma on São Tomé; it and O. productus are considered unique to the islands, while the two large reddish species of Scolopendra (see below) found on both islands are probably introduced. This means that the centipedes of São Tomé and Príncipe are 50% unique (endemic).

Scolopendra dL GGI

Scolopendra subspinipes feeding on slug (D. Lin phot.  GG I

More and more islanders on São Tomé and Príncipe are posting images of strange island creatures on the internet. For instance, in my last blog I was able to include photos taken by the staff of Praia Inhame of the largest reptile in the world, the leatherback sea turtle.

Manta Mobula  Praia San Paulo Sao Tome nr airport 1 of 6 poss.spp

Mobula, a large manta ray on Praia San Paolo, near airport, Sao Tome.  unknown phot.

Another example is this huge manta ray which was caught off Praia San Paolo near the airport last year.  This could be one of six different manta species of the genus Mobula that occur in this part of the Atlantic.  In these cases, we do not know who took the pictures, but we can still respond with identifications.

Still others are sending us pictures of animals and plants directly for identification; we call these people “citizen scientists,” and we hope our continuing expeditions and education programs are having something to do with this.

Estrela Matilde R and D

Estrela Matilde lives on Príncipe Island and works as Supervisor for HBD Agricultural Operations.  Recently a fisherman brought her the strange creature figured below:

red sliper lobster

 Scyllarides herklotsii  E. Matilde phot

I took the photo to some of my colleagues at the Academy who identified it as a red slipper lobster, and we were able to send Estrela the information below.

red slip lbstr page

 1991 FAO species catalog. Vol. 13

We have received some very interesting photos From São Tomé Island, over the past few years but most recently from Ponta Figo.

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina are the proprietors of Mucumbli Ponta Figo, a restaurant/guest resort in the northwest of the big  island. Tiziano is evidently very fond of African civets (Civetticus civetta) and has had several as pets. One that now lives in the garden is 14 years old, but he has a new pup as well.

14yr old civet

Tiziano’s 14 year old Civet

baby civet

Tiziano’s latest pet.

African civets are widespread on the African mainland (I have seen many). They are the largest members of the mongoose family, Viverridae, but are not native to the islands.  It is said they were introduced to control rodents about 100 years ago. They are largely nocturnal and eat virtually anything.

But the most intriguing photos the Mucumbli people sent me were of some mushrooms they found a month or so ago.

Readers will recall that before we began our expeditions, fewer than 15 species were known from São Tomé, and Príncipe had never been sampled.  We now have 225 species;, over 30% are apparently new to science.  I immediately sent the Mucumbli shots to Dr. Dennis Desjardin, an outstanding  mycologist and veteran of two Gulf of Guinea expeditions.

Mucumbuli mushrooms

Ponta Figo boletes- Mucumbli phot

Mucumbli botetes

Ponta Figo boletes-Mucumbli phot

Dennis immediately identified the mushrooms as boletes, a rather general term largely referring to their shape.  He could not identify them without actually having them in hand but did say that we have never collected this species, and they may well be the first ectomycorrhizal fungus for São Tomé!  This term refers to the symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants, such as conifers, beeches, or orchids; this relationship is found among a number of mushroom groups, and frequently the association is with particular species of plants or trees. We had already discovered two genera of ectomycorrhizal fungi on Principe (see below) but so far none confirmed from the big island.

Ramaria

Ramaria sp. from Principe Desjardin phot – GG III

Amanita Principe

Principe Amanita sp. Desjardin phot GG III

Clearly, we need to get some samples of the Ponta Figo mushrooms.

Back on Principe, Marnie Saidi of Santo Antonio is our champion citizen scientist so far.

Marnie Saidi

Marnie and her partner Hassan own and operate a construction business in Santo Antonio, Principe.  She has participated in a number of our biodiversity education projects in schools on the smaller island and has become quite the naturalist.
The garden behind her house is nothing special (see below) but the creatures that visit her every year are quite surprising.

Marnies backyard

Saidi phot, 2013

Last year, Marnie caught a number of large beetles on her property and actually put them in the freezer for me to await our return last April. They are still being identified, but the photo below is a long-horned beetle, of the Family Cerambycidae. Note Marnie’s green fingernails, offered as scale.

cerambycid

Principe long-horned beetle. Saidi phot, 2012

Below is an image from the internet to show what a long-horned beetle looks like when it is not in a jar-this is a much smaller individual.

Alexandr Novas

Alexandr Novas phot. from internet

Marnie’s catches of long-horned beetles are particularly notable as so far as we know, 40% of the species of this group are found nowhere else but São Tomé and Príncipe.  Below is another of Marnie’s beetles, which we now have here at the Academy.  It has been tentatively identified by our entomologists as a dynastine scarab.

dynastine scarab

Principe dynastine scarab- Saidi phot 2012

Since we returned, Marnie has sent us a number of intriguing images of her strange visitors. The next email was the photo below, actually I think it is two different images of the same spider.

MARNIES SPIDERS

Giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria. Saidi phot. 2013

Dr. Charles Griswold, one of my colleagues here at the Academy identified this as a giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria; these are widespread on the mainland and not unsuspected to be present on Príncipe.  They are frequently welcomed into homes, as they eat large numbers of insect pests. Marnie then sent a photo of a beautiful green moth.

Geometrid Thalassa quadraria

Green moth, Thalassa quadraria (Geometridae) Saidi phot 2013

This was kindly identified by my friend Dr. Luis F. Mendes of the Institute for Tropical Science Research in Lisbon.  Although, he is a butterfly specialist who has just published a paper on the butterflies of the islands, he is sure that this green moth is a new record for Principe!

During the past few weeks, Marnie has been visited by two of the three unique frog species on the small island.

both leptos

Male Leptopelis palmatus, the Principe Giant Tree Frog.  Saidi phot. 2013

This is a male of the Principe giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus.  Photos of this species have appeared in this blog many times. The males can be many different colors, but the females are usually dull green; the eyes of both species are always bright red. According to the tenets of biogeography, there should be no frogs at all on the islands, as there has never been a connection with the mainland!  What is spectacular about this particular species is that the females are the largest of all African tree frogs (up to 110 mm)! It is the only island amphibian species whose tadpoles (aquatic larvae) we have never found and described.

Marnie hyperolius

Oceanic tree frog,  Hyperolius molleri. Saidi phot. 2013

Marnie was most recently visited by an Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius molleri. Until very recently, we thought this species was the only one that occurs on both São Tomé and Príncipe, but very recent evidence hints that the two populations may be different. We are working on it.

As you can see, observations by islanders, Citizen Scientists, are of great value to us and the world of science.  We are busy identifying  specimens and planning our next expeditions; perhaps a short educational one in the Spring, and another full-fledged one in early 2015.

Here’s the parting shot:

Tose

Regional President Hon. Jose Cassandra hoists aloft the certificate designating Principe Island a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve!

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 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 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. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.

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


August 2, 2013

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

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

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

tedx poster

me at tedx

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

Team 7

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

saotome_poster small

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

 

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

Tetramorium renae

Tetramorium renae, Photo by CAS Project Lab.

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

Usnea  NM phot

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

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

3X6A4358 AS

 

3X6A4368as

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

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

 

Rayna 2

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

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

Pochyta

Pochyta sp. Phot. T. Szuts, GG VII

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

salti 1a

 

salti 2b

T. Szuts photos. GG VII

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

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

Praia Inhame 2

Praia Inhame, São Tomé 2013; unknown photographer

Praia Inhame

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

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

P from Jockey's Bonnet

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

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


May 24, 2013

The Race: Principe Island– A New World Biosphere Reserve!

During GG VII, just completed, a rather remarkable thing happened which readers should know about. I will write a wrap-up of Gulf of Guinea VII next month, but in the meantime I want to talk about Príncipe Island in general and what has just happened there.

P eddie Herbst

Photo by Eddie Herbst.

Readers will already know that this blog is about our 13 years of biodiversity work in the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. The latter island is about twice as old as the former, at 31 million years. It is much, much smaller, but when it first arose volcanically from the ocean floor it was nearly four times the current combined area of both islands today.

Latest working GofG
RCD construct, Google Earth.

Príncipe’s great age is responsible for its remarkable appearance, a landscape punctuated by ancient steep volcanic plugs and a mesa, mostly made up of a rather rare rock known as phonolite.

Princiep andrew GG VI

 Andrew Stanbridge phot.  GG VI

Isolated for so many millions of years, it also harbors a large number of unique plants and animals we call endemics; organisms that have arrived on the islands by random dispersal, established colonizing populations that have accumulated genetic change over deep time, so that they are no longer the same as their ancestors on the mainland.  An endemic species is one that is found only in one place, nowhere else.

P endemics

Principe endemics. D. Lin, Weckerphoto]

All of the species above are unique to Príncipe Island and nowhere else in the world.  There are many more not pictured, but fewer than on São Tomé because that island is much larger, thus more niches. Virtually every one of our expeditions has turned up new, undescribed species from both islands as they remain incompletely known. Our work on these islands has been ongoing for 13 years and has included over 40 scientists of different disciplines and their graduate students.
A year or so, I was contacted by scientists from Madeira to provide information in support of an application to have Príncipe Island established as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
UNESCO defines World Biosphere Reserves thus:
Biosphere reserves are sites established by countries and recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. As places that seek to reconcile conservation of biological and cultural diversity and economic and social development through partnerships between people and nature, they are ideal to test and demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainable development from local to international scales.
Biosphere reserves are thus globally considered as:
•    sites of excellence where new and optimal practices to manage nature and human activities are tested and demonstrated;
•    tools to help countries implement the results of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and, in particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Ecosystem Approach;
•    learning sites for the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development.
I was delighted to supply supportive lists of floral and faunal species and photographs to illustrate the uniqueness of Príncipe, as this would be a wonderful opportunity  for this tiny island with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.  Although I never received a copy of the completed application, I learned some months ago that the application had been successful, and that Príncipe Island had indeed become a new World Biosphere Reserve!!
What I did not anticipate was that I and my team would be on the island at the same time as the formal presentation. We were invited to the ceremony,  Saturday the 4th of May, by Regional President Jose Cardosa Cassandra himself during our annual meeting, and at the same time he asked if I would serve on his
Scientific Advisory Council, a great honor and responsibility.

IMG_3090

President Cassandra receives the World Biosphere Reserve document from Prime Minister Gabriel Costa. V. Schnoll phot

 

Toze

Photo by E. Mathilde

IMG_3098

Later, during his speech, President Cassandra acknowledged both me and the California Academy of Sciences by name, as having provided much of the biological ground work for the successful application.  He asked that I stand and be recognized… it was a unique moment, and even more so when the Prime Minister did the same in the next speech! V. Schnoll phot

IMG_3119
After the formal presentation which included around 250 people, there was a series of panel discussions, in which we took part. The rather odd configuration of Velma Schnoll’s photo above is because President Cassandra insisted that Roberta Ayres (our senior educator on the CAS team) translate for me. Roberta is short, I am tall.

 

IMG_3121
Finally Velma took a group picture. This includes the REDBIOS committee that originally submitted the Biosphere application; on the left is our old friend Arlindo Carvalho, Director General of the Environment He authorizes our research on the islands. Just to the left of the certificate is Regional President Jose Cassandra, and please note that he has put one of our CAS expedition patches on his shirt! To the right of the certificate is the UNESCO representative, and to my right is Dr. Antonio Abreu, whose people first contacted us for the biological information for the application.

IMG_3104
Phot. V Schnoll, GG VII

To say that this was a great and joyful day would be an understatement.  We know that our science is importance, and we can see that our Biodiversity Education project is making a difference tremendous with the kids.  But to have contributed to an event of global magnitude for this wonderful island country makes me and I am sure all who have joined me on these many Gulf of Guinea Expeditions very proud.

The next blog will be a summary of what we think we accomplished on GG VII.
The Parting Shot is a teaser:

The Parting shot:

 

Tom

Dr. Tom Daniel with what we think is Principe’s only endemic plant genus, hitherto known only from one specimen.
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”


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