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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

April 23, 2013

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

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

<i>Hapsidophrys principis</i>, A. Standbridge photo, GG VII

Hapsidophrys principis, A. Standbridge photo, GG VII

 

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

Bob and Signe, V. Schnoll photo, GG VII

Bob and Signe, V. Schnoll photo, GG VII

 

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

 

Velma Schnoll & Signe Mikulane return from the frog tree, RCD photo, GG VII

Velma Schnoll & Signe Mikulane return from the frog tree, RCD photo, GG VII

 

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

Ayres and Szuts arrive in Sao Tome, RCD photo, GG VII

Ayres and Szuts arrive in Sao Tome, RCD photo, GG VII

 

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

RCD photo, GG VII

RCD photo, GG VII

 

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

RCD photo, GG VII

RCD photo, GG VII

 

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

Education Team:  Velma Schnoll, Roberta Ayers, Roberta dos Santos, RCD photo, GG VII

Education Team: Velma Schnoll, Roberta Ayers, Roberta dos Santos, RCD photo, GG VII

 

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

Tamas is using a simple sweep net, RCD photo, GG VII

Tamas is using a simple sweep net, RCD photo, GG VII

 

Tamas is using a beating pan here. He holds it beneath a bush and beats the latter. By the way, these pictures do not do Tamas justice. He is about 6’ 8” tall.

Tamas with beating pan, RCD photo, GG VII

Tamas with beating pan, RCD photo, GG VII

 

He brings specimens back live and then photographs them in great detail.  This is Tamas’s photo setup in our room and the results are truly spectacular.  By the way, the bottle on the right is NOT vodka; it is lab grade ethyl alcohol for the preservation of DNA.

Tamas photo setup, RCD photo, GG VII

Tamas photo setup, RCD photo, GG VII

 

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

Spider, T. Szuts photo, GG VII

Spider, T. Szuts photo, GG VII

Spider, T. Szuts photo, GG VII

Spider, T. Szuts photo, GG VII

Spider, T. Szuts photo, GG VII

Spider, T. Szuts photo, GG VII

 

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

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

Here’s the parting shot:

Satocao workers returning from cacao plantation, V. Schnoll photo, GG VII

Satocao workers returning from cacao plantation, V. Schnoll photo, 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 22, 2012

The Race: Sixth Gulf of Guinea Expedition Redux

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All of the GG VI participants are home now, and our specimens and materials are safely ensconced in their respective departments at the Academy.  For the first time, we had an official patch for the expedition. The original design of the cobra bobo and giant Begonia was drawn by one my graduate students, Dashiell Harwood. The patch was produced by our friend, Mike Murakami, who played such an important role in the production of the biodiversity coloring books (more about the education project below.) We gave many of these stick-on patches to third grade teachers to hand out as incentives to hard-working students.

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Dr. Iwamoto consuming his favorite, the concon. (A. Stanbridge – GG VI

Soon after Dr. Tomio Iwamoto, our marine ichthyologist and veteran of GGI and GG II returned home to the Academy a few weeks before the last of us, he left for Africa again. And, once again, he is aboard the Norwegian research vessel, the R.V. Nansen, as a senior scientist. I devoted an entire blog to his last trip aboard the Nansen, a couple of years ago.  They are trawling for deep water fish off the coast of Guinea Conakry. I believe the ship will also be exploring the coast of Mauritania in the following weeks. Since he left before we returned we have not been able to discuss his findings during GG VI; but below is a photo of the strange pipefish he and and Dr. Brian Simison seined in northern Sấo Tomé

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Microphis, the only member of its family reported from Sấo Tomé and Príncipe. (B. Simison-GG VI)

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Our botanists had a “a field day,” so to speak.  Recall that Jim Shevock (right) made 682 collections during GG IV, and this time he figured he would just pick up a few things he missed.  Not so. He estimates that among the 647 collections he made in GG VI are between 50 to 100 species of bryophytes he had not seen before, and these include at least 12 genera of liverworts and 12 genera of mosses that are new to the islands.
Miko Nadel (left, above) really has his hands full trying to sort out the lichens; there are 129 previously known species, but Miko made 475 collections, many of which will undoubtedly be new.  He tells me that lichenologists classify lichens by the supporting fungus rather than the symbiotic algae.

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Pico Mesa,  Príncipe ( RCD -  GG III)

In an earlier blog from the islands, I reported that Jim, Miko and our photographer Andrew were the first CAS workersto study the top of Pico do Sấo Tomé. Later on Príncipe, Jim and Miko became the first of us to reach the top of Pico Mesa (above).  Because they had to walk there rather than reaching the base by boat, they were only able to explore the northern most reaches of it; it appears to be a botanist’s paradise, and we will definitely return. Dr. Tom Daniel (GG III and IV) is particularly interested in getting up there as Miko photographed an endemic Impatiens at the top.

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Gabriel, me, Rayna Bell and Joao Pedro Pio at Bom Sucesso (A. Stanbridge – GGVI)

The herpetologists also did well. Rayna and I were assisted by a young Portuguese biologist, Joao Pedro Pio (far right), currently working on the endangered endemic maroon pigeon for workers at the University of Lisbon. He and his co-workers (including Gabriel, left) accompanied Rayna on all of her nocturnal frog hunts.

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Above is Hyperolius molleri, the oceanic treefrog typically inhabiting the lower elevations of both islands. This particular frog is being devoured by a wolf spider and note that it is largely a uniform green in color. In many earlier blogs, I have included images of the Sấo Tomé giant treefrog which is much bigger, has bright orange and black markings and is typically found above 1100 meters.

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Rayna’s sample from between 700 and 900 meters would strongly suggest that the two species are hybridizing at this level.  This is pretty exciting in that, if supported by genetic analysis, it will fit right into her PhD thesis at Cornell University.

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While I failed to find adult specimens of the Príncipe shrew which we know to be endemic and distinct from the Sấo Tomé shrew, we did find the largest “cobra gita” (house snake: Lamprophis sp.) we have ever seen and from a new locality.  This, too, we know to be a distinct species from the Sấo Tomé Lamprophis, but we have thus far been unable to describe it. This is because there are many species of the same genus on the African mainland, and their relationships are poorly understood. So while we know the two island species are distinct from one another, we cannot guarantee that one or the other (or both) does not also occur on the mainland.

h-principensis
The Príncipe thumbnail-less gecko H. principensis (Weckerphoto – GG III]

While we were on Príncipe I received word that the description our new species of gecko had been formally published, so above meet Hemidactylus principensis.  Like H. greeffi, its nearest relative on Sấo Tomé, it lacks the thumbnail on the first toe, but otherwise, the two are very, very different.

Dr. Brian Simison’s finding that there are no limpets on either Sấo Tomé or Príncipe is intriguing.  Brian informs me that so far as he knows, Sấo Tomé and Príncipe may be the only oceanic islands that lack them.  They are present on the Cape Verde Ids, the Seychelles, etc.

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Dr Brian Simison at Laguna Azul.  (A. Stanbridge – GG VI)

This leads to the possibility that there may be something in the volcanic rock making up these islands that precludes the presence of these mollusks.

guinea-line
Recall from earlier blogs that all four of the Gulf of Guinea Islands, plus Mt. Cameroon, the Cameroon highlands and even the Jos Plateau of Nigeria all originated from magmatic extrusions up through a 3,000 km-long linear fissure or rift that transects both the marine and continental parts of the African plate known as the Guinea Line; extrusion of magma occurred at various times from over 60 million years ago to the very recent Holocene continental island of Bioko.

The remarkable towers of both Sấo Tomé and Príncipe which appear in these blogs with such frequency are indeed of a rather uncommon, chemically distinct rock known as phonolite, usually associated with geologic hotspots.

phonolye-and-mesa
Príncipe, note phonolite towers and mesa on lower left. (A. Stanbridge – GG VI)

One test of the hypothesis that it is something about the rock that is excluding limpets would be to explore the shoreline of Bioko, the youngest of the Gulf of Guinea Ids and the only continental member of the archipelago.  And as luck would have it, our colleague, Rayna Bell will be working on Bioko in a matter of months.  In addition to looking for limpets on Bioko t the presence or absences of limpets along the Gulf of Guinea coast should be documented. If indeed the rock is unsuitable for limpets Brian would predict that limpets would be found on either side of Guinea Line, but not on rocks produced by it.

education-1-2

(l-r, Roberta Ayres,  Velma Schnoll, me on, Sấo Tomé (A.  Stanbridge – GG VI)

I devoted an entire blog last month to the biodiversity education component of GG VI, and for all of us involved, this was just joyous. We personally delivered 1,840 endemic species coloring books to third graders in 62 classrooms of 17 selected primary schools on both islands. On the big island the schools were in the districts of Sấo Tomé town, Angolares, Trindade and Neves , and on Príncipe  at Santo Antonio, Sundy, Sao Joaquim, Nova Estrella and Praia Abade.

porto-real

Porto Real, “my school” on Príncipe  (V. Schnoll – GG VI)

To say they were well received would be a gross understatement.  Again, we thank all who worked on this project (see March 9 blog: Sharing the Wealth; and for those who made GG VI financially possible, see “Partners” below).  At the adult level, we also gave five lectures on the biodiversity of the islands: two in Portugal and three at institutions on the islands themselves.

drew-1
Droo doing his thing on Sấo Tomé ( R. Bell – GG VI)

Andrew Stanbridge (above), our photographer on both GG V and GG VI, is a remarkable person in many ways; much more than just a gifted professional artist.  His website is Andrewstanbridge.com

Here are some parting shots:

parting-shot-1-4

parting-shot-1

critter-1-3
PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to collectexport specimens for study. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include HBD of Bom Bom and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abell, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. Logistics and lodging for GG VI (Omali Lodge and Bom Bom Island) were kindly provided by HBD.


April 22, 2011

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!

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poster-distribution-29-200x300

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

The Parting Shot:

partingshit-1

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.”


December 7, 2010

The Race: Really Weird Island Snakes

A wormsnake from Kenya (Leptotyphlops drewesi).   Phot. D. Lin, CAS

In these accounts, I have written a fair amount about the two species of island house snakes (Lamprophis-cobra jita) that Lisette is still analyzing and a bit on the supposedly introduced cobra on São Tomé (Naja melanoleuca – “cobra preta”);  I have also mentioned the fact that each island also has a diurnal green snake, endemic  but unrelated to each other (Hapsidophrys principis, Philothamnus thomensis –“cobra sua sua”.   However, there are three additional snakes that I have not mentioned much: these are the so-called blind- or worm snakes.  Collectively, their technical name is the Scolecophidia, and the group is considered primitive relative to other snakes.  As their common names imply, all have reduced or no vision, virtually all of them are burrowers; they are small as snakes go and blunt at both ends, and there are about 300 species in three families found world-wide in tropical and many subtropical regions.

The fact that they are burrowers (fossorial), like the endemic São Tomé caecilian, Schistometopum thomense –“ cobra bobo”, lends credence to our 2007 hypothesis that some of the Gulf of Guinea endemics were carried to the islands from mainland Africa on very large floating chunks of riverbank from either the Niger or the Congo.  Burrowing legless vertebrates are unlikely to be found floating on logs or being carried by high winds!

Proposed riverbank raft (Measey, et al., 2007). Illustration: Richard E. Cook

There are three endemic blindsnakes on the oceanic Gulf of Guinea Islands: The beatiful golden blindsnake, Typhlops elegans is endemic to Príncipe island.  It is often confused by locals with the São Tomé burrowing caecilian, as its Kreo name implies: “cobra bobo do Príncipe.

Typlops elegans, the “cobra bobo do Principe.”  Weckerphoto GG III

Typlops elegans. D. Lin phot. GG II

Two endemic blindsnakes inhabit São Tomé exclusively, and as you can see they are extremely similar in appearance.

Fea’s wormsnake, Rhinotyphlops feae. D. Lin phot. GG II

Newton’s wormsnake, Rhinotyphlops newtoni. RCD phot. GG I

The reason I have not written much about them is that they are rather poorly known. Most species are small and difficult to work with, in that the characteristics that might serve to distinguish them are also very small and nearly impossible to discern without magnification.  My colleague, Dr. Van Wallach, of Harvard University is probably the current world authority on these wormlike snakes, and it has taken much of his career to understand them; many of the characteristics he has studied are internal.

Colleagues of mine have just published a major work on one of the families, the Typhlopidae,  in Biology Letters, a distinguished international journal.  Prof. Blair Hedges kindly gave me permission to reproduce the figure below, and I am discussing it here relative to our island work in order to show how the work of others can add to, support or even falsify one’s own– it is how science proceeds.

from Vidal, Marin, Morini, Donnellan, Branch, Thomas, Vences, Wynn, Cruaud & Hedges. 2010 Biology Letters 6:558-561

This is not as complicated as it may seem although it will be difficult to read at low resolution.  As with other cladograms, each of the names on the far right column  represents a single species clustered with its nearest relative(s); thus it is a “picture” of proposed evolutionary relationships.  This figure also contains estimates of when each lineage and its nearest relative split from their common ancestor (time divergence)—the common ancestor is indicated by a black dot (node) and the length of each branch linking two species is an indication of time.  Actual time in millions of years is given on the very bottom, along with the names of the geologic periods in vertical colored bars (blue= Jurassic; light green = early and late Cretaceous (K); orange  = Paleogene, and yellow, the most recent =  Neogene).  The authors have also provided diagrams (upper left) of the relative positions of the continents during the breakup of Gondwanaland.  The major points of this study are (1) that the common ancestor of all scolecophidians dates back 150 million years to the Jurassic Period (before the breakup of Gondwanaland), (2) that the ancestor of the modern Typhlopidae originally existed on an early landmass the authors call Indigascar (Madagacar + India) back in the Late Cretaceous, and (3) that the presence of their modern relatives in South America, Australia and the West Indies is most likely the result of a number of overwater dispersal events (like rafting), including a major western transatlantic one.

Vidal and the other authors included samples of the Gulf of Guinea Islands endemics which we collected during GG I and GG II, and their results are of great interest to us as we try to understand the origins of the Gulf of Guinea Islands biodiversity.

Expanded view of African clade from Vidal et al. Principe species in blue; Sao Tome species in red.

Distribution of the two Sao Tome wormsnakes and nearest relatives.

Here is the disjunct pattern that has frequently appeared when we look at the evolutionary relationships between Gulf of Guinea island endemics and their African mainland relatives; first, note that Rhinotyphlops newtoni and R. feae appear to have diverged from their common ancestor only a few million years ago.  Since, the minimum age of São Tomé is regarded as about 13 million years, it seems likely that this split occurred on the island, possibly as a result of volcanic events which isolated two populations of the ancestor from each other.  This is a more likely scenario than separate colonization events from the mainland.  However, the nearest relatives of the island species are a clade (sister-group) comprising R. unitaeniatus of East Africa and R. lalandei of southern Africa, and a look at the branch lengths of this sister-relationship suggests that, if the time divergence estimates  in this publication are correct, the common ancestor of both groups existed on the mainland over 50 million years ago.

Distribution of Principe wormsnake and its nearest relatives.

The situation with the beautiful Príncipe endemic, Typlops elegans is somewhat unclear, since the true distribution of its nearest relative, T. angolensis, is not known with certainty; the latter is said to occur from coastal Cameroon, south to Gabon and Angola and west to western Kenya, but these specimens have never been systematically examined.  Moreover, African distributions as broad as this one frequently turn out to be made up of the distributions a number of similar “cryptic” species.  But assuming that T. angolensis does have this distribution, that the tree is accurate, and the time divergences therein are reasonable estimates, one would naturally conclude that the ancestor of “cobra bobo do Príncipe“ reached that island and diverged from mainland T. angolensis during the past few million years.  If branch lengths are accurate it would appear this happened at roughly the same time as the two São Tomé endemics were diverging from their common ancestor.  Even though Príncipe, at 31 million years, is more than twice as old as São Tomé is geologically, this is not an unreasonable hypothesis.

This cladogram also suggests that these two blindsnakes share common ancestry with an unidentified species (specimen) collected at Lwiro, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This interests us because this locality is close to the Itombwe Highlands, which are, geologically, very, very old, dating back to the Mesozoic.

On a different tangent, our island biodiversity posters are nearing completion, and that will be my next topic.

The parting shot:

Our work in Paradise.  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 “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


Filed under: Biodiversity,biogeography,Gulf of Guinea,snakes — bob @ 4:47 pm

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