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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

February 21, 2012

The Race: Gulf of Guinea VI, Part I (the Science)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Longfin crevalle jack described to science only 5 years ago. Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge phot- GG V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miko Nadel and lichens (from web)

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

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

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

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

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Compilation and photo by RCD, GG IV (* this paper has since been published)

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


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

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

The parting shot:

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

[Herbst]

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim,  and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study.  Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the GG III-V  expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, Sheila Farr Nielsen, Corinne W. Abel and Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, Bernard Schulte, and John S. Livemore.   Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


May 18, 2011

The Race: Henrique’s Spider

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

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

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

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

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Olea tree. V. Schnoll phot – GG V

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

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Olea tree. V. Schnoll phot.- GG V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parting shot:

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

PARTNERS

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


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

The Parting Shot:

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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.”


February 18, 2011

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”.


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