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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

August 22, 2012

The Race: Why We Collect Specimens.

Summer has been extremely busy.   Our irrepressible bryologist, Jim Shevock, comes into my lab almost weekly with new moss discoveries from GG VI.  He says a new paper on Fissidens (the largest moss genus on Sâo Tomé and Príncipe) is almost finished and will be submitted for publication as soon as he and his colleagues (from the US, the Netherlands and Lisbon) complete a key to identification of the species. Recall that Jim nearly doubled the number of collections he made during GG IV… He thought he had seen everything! The mesa on Príncipe will be a primary target for our botanists on GG VII, next year (see below).

Phrynobatrachus leveleve – RCD phot, GG VI

A nice surprise from GG VI was that we finally got some nice, un-posed  photographs of the Sâo Tomé puddle frog, Phrynobatrachus leveleve. Readers may recall that we described this new endemic species back in 2007 following GG II (leve leve means “take it easy” in the local language).  Obviously the way to get good shots of these critters is at night!

Ptychadena newtoni.  A. Stanbridge phot – GG VI

Another good find on a different night was Newton’s rocket frog (Ptychadena newtoni) at a new locality, Caxueira.

The creek at Caxueira.    A. Stanbridge phot. – GG VI

In earlier days I was concerned that this species, endemic to Sâo Tomé, was on the wane due to human development, but it appears to be more widely distributed than we thought (see also Feb 2011 blog). Caxueira is not far from the city center.

Why do we collect plant and animal specimens? Why do we bring them home euthanized and preserved (or in the case of plants, pressed and dried), and why do we organize and store them for posterity?  The easy answer is that we need to find out what they are, to identify them and describe them so we can communicate about them.  We certainly cannot conserve or preserve or even talk about species if we do not know they exist. This is particularly important in the tropics where so many different species have evolved, and especially in areas like Sâo Tomé and Príncipe that have never been fully explored by biologists.  An added note is that for a biologist to know that a species is new and undescribed, he has to know all the related species that it isn’t and then demonstrate it!

It is a fact that a lot of things in the tropics that look alike are not at all related; conversely, some critters that look radically different are, in fact, just variants of the same species.

The botanists of course confront similar questions. Below are two species of the genus Impatiens.

(l) T. Daniel phot – GG IV; (r) M. Nadel phot – GG VI

Both species are high elevation forms described a long time ago: I. manteroana is thought to be endemic to Príncipe, while I. thomensis is known only from Sâo Tomé. But are they really different species? And if so, are they each other’s closest relatives?  We do not yet have material of the former, but this is a question we can answer next year through DNA analysis. The specimen on the right was photographed high on the Príncipe mesa, which is one of the reasons it is a target area for next year.

Below is an island example of two species that look very much alike but are definitely not the same:

D. Lin phots: GG I, GG II]

These are photographs of small leaf-litter skinks of the genus Afroablepharus. The specimen above was collected on Sâo Tomé during GG I and the one below came from Príncipe (GG II).  While they look identical, they are actually two different species as shown by colleagues of ours who were working on the molecular level: extracting DNA from small bits of tissue (probably tail tips) the two species were shown to be genetically quite different.  The one from Príncipe was described over 160 years ago (A. africanus), while the one above, from Sâo Tomé, remains unnamed. This is most frustrating as even though we know they are separate species, we cannot describe the new species yet because the Sâo Tomé animals from which the DNA was analyzed were not collected.  It is a complicated situation that both groups of workers together are trying to resolve at this time.

Another example can be found in the island geckos about which I have written before.

From public presentation by E Miller. CAS Big Kahuna phot (same specimens from above and below).

For over one hundred years, the geckos from both islands that lack thumb nails were considered to be the same species, Hemidactylus greeffi, originally described from Sao Tome.  Our same colleagues noted that the two were genetically different but again failed to take whole samples and so could not describe the Príncipe species as new.  It was not until we closely examined specimens in our Academy collections from both islands that we found many morphological differences between the two, which strongly supported the genetic evidence of our colleagues.  The animal on the right is now  known as Hemidactylus principensis, yet another island endemic. As luck would have it, the paper was published while we were on Principe!

The smaller specimen on the right in both views is also what is known as the holotype; i.e., it is the single animal that is described in minute detail that becomes the “name bearer”.  All geckos collected from the islands and identified as H. principensis will be based on the description of this particular specimen; holotypes are the most important specimens in any collection.

In our collection, which is probably the fifth largest in the world, all holotypes are housed separately and identified by a blue ribbon.

Part of Herpetology collections rooms; holotypes above right, paratypes below right. RCD phots.

Another question often asked of museum scientists is “why do you have to collect so many?”  The answer is that species vary; no two members of the same vertebrate species are identical.  This is why we include additional specimens in a species description.  While the holotype or “name bearer” is usually a single animal in a standard description, other members of the same purported species, hopefully from the same place, are also described in some detail in order to account for individual variation.  These are usually designated as paratypes; in the Academy collections, they are always designated by red ribbons [above] and are the second-most important.

Yet another frequently asked question is, “do you have to kill the specimens?”  The answer lies in the fact that not all characters (similarities and differences) are observable from the outside.  With animal groups like frogs, one has to look deeper, and this is impossible with living specimens. Below is a collage of some of the sorts of characters I had to examine in determining the relationships between members of African tree frogs of the family Hyperoliidae— found in Africa, the Seychelles and Madagascar.

All RCD phots.

Notice that the x-ray in the lower right hand corner revealed to us that the two geckos mentioned above not only lack thumb nails, they lack the entire terminal bone of the thumb! (the new species, Hemidactylus principensis, is on the left). So far as we know, they are the only two members of the genus Hemidactylus, (90+ species) that exhibit this characteristic.  This might suggest they are each other’s closest relatives, but we are in the process of determining that by further DNA analysis that includes other closely related species.

During GG VI we did another kind of collecting:

Rayna Bell, Cornell University. A. Stanbridge phot – GG VI

Notice that in her left hand, Rayna Bell is holding an adult Sao Tome giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis), while in her right she has a cotton swab.  She swabbed the skin of each frog she collected a number of times in a number of places in order to detect the presence of chytrid fungus. The swab will also detect the actual infection load if the fungus is present.  This is the first attempt at detecting the fungus on the islands of Sâo Tomé and Príncipe, and we do not yet have results. It is certainly present in other areas of Africa. Batrachochytridium dendrobatidis (Bd for short) is a fungus that has been implicated in the mass die-off of populations of frogs in many parts of the world.  Frog skin is a living membrane through which gasses and water can freely pass; while the mechanism is not well-known, the fungus seems to totally disrupt these functions causing the demise of the infected frog.

Cross section of Bd infected frog skin.  (A) are sporangia with zoospores visible. (B) tube through which zoospores are released to the environment. Phot courtesy of A. Pessier, U. Illinois

Another real value to collections is the fact that past history can be discovered through our specimens. It turns out that Bd can also be detected by swabbing alcohol preserved specimens regardless of age, although the resulting data are not quite so informative as samples from living material.  Below is Dr. Dave Blackburn’s “chytrid crew” (mostly undergrad and graduate students) swabbing specimens collected from the Impenetrable Forest of Uganda many years ago.  Dave is our new curator in herpetology and a real expert on Bd.

Dave Blackburn’s “chytrid crew”.  D. Blackburn phot.

Every trip to these small amazing islands yields new discoveries. We are planning our next expedition for 2013 and excited at the prospect of the new stuff we will find.

Here’s the parting shot.

Autonomy Day in Principe, 2012 A. Stanbridge phot, GG VI

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 collect and export specimens for study. 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 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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:

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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 20, 2012

The Race: Mountains That Glow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Parting Shot:

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all photos by Andrew Stanbridge

PARTNERS

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

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


April 18, 2012

The Race: What Making a Real Difference Looks Like

These pictures speak for themselves. They are all by our photographer, Andrew Stanbridge.

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“Today was Monday the 16th – we began early in Neves dropping into the schools (3rd grade classes) There were around 285 students today in classes that ranged from 18 – 42 students per. We travelled down some roads that you would not recognize as such to places that are old, crumbling, and surprisingly populated. It was more amazing than I can say to be bringing our coloring books to this place and teaching the kids (and their teachers) about their islands. If you could have seen their faces! You will, when we get the pictures uploaded… I’m too exhausted to write more, but will try to get to posting some pics tomorrow if I have time, but we begin at 6:30 am at the main primary school in Sao Tome. 525 students (only 3rd grade) – They begin early to beat the heat!” Velma Schnoll,  Biodiversity Education Project Manager16 April 2012

Roberta Ayres, Senor Science Educator, informs me that as of now (18th April) we have done in-class presentations to 1,327 3rd grade students.. and tomorrow we still have the town of Trindade to do in Sao Tome!  Next week we will do the same in Principe. A science update comes next. Some exciting stuff.

The Parting Shot:

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PARTNERS

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

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


March 9, 2012

The Race: Gulf of Guinea VI, Part II. (Sharing the Wealth)

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Principe Island from the northeast.  This island is at least 31 million years old  [Phot. Eddie Herbst]

Some years ago the Gulf of Guinea Project “morphed” from a pure multidisciplinary research focus to include an additional and parallel effort to share our science with the local people and non-scientists everywhere. My first couple of visits to São Tomé and Príncipe followed over thirty years of fieldwork on the African mainland, essentially doing science that is read and used by other scientists; this had been wonderfully exciting, rewarding and fun (sometimes scary). But my exposure to the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe changed my outlook and to some degree, the direction of my work in a fundamental way.

Here is a tiny two-island nation absolutely unique and rich biologically, yet still poorly known to the world of science. At the same time there is a looming threat to the environment with the recent discovery of off-shore oil, and the real danger that the world might lose this biological richness before it is even discovered and described! Moreover, the delightful citizens of these islands have, by and large, no idea how rich and special their biodiversity heritage is. Perhaps if we could make the citizens aware of what they have that is unique, found nowhere else in the world, they might be in a better position to make informed decisions as change occurs in the future.

Here, I realized, is an opportunity to help an entire nation prepare for change through awareness of the unique nature of their environment. But how?

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The sharing of knowledge is fundamental to my discipline, and I have always brought or sent copies of our published scientific results to the governments and appropriate institutions of the African countries in which I have worked, but it was not until several years into our islands work that it occurred to me that we should be including a Portuguese abstract in each of our publications (above left). The abstracts at least make our work understandable to Portuguese scholars who read scientific journals, but on the islands, it was only the various ministries and specialists who even received these articles, and they are technical in nature (we have published 18 so far). In 2008, I began to write this monthly blog (above right). While it is written for a popular audience and hopefully helps bring world attention to the biological uniqueness of the islands, it is still only available to English speakers with access to the worldwide web.

Visitors to the California Academy of Sciences are aware of our work in the islands as we occasionally have small semi-permanent exhibits on our island work on the public floor (see below)

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I should mention that the Academy is nearly 160 years old, and we receive over one and a half million visitors per year. We have frequent after-hour public and fundraising events, and whenever possible we have a Gulf of Guinea Islands display which give those of us who are involved an opportunity to describe our research to our public in person.

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Velma Schnoll at Discovery Evening. March 2, 2012 (Phot. RCD)

While these events help make our local visitors aware of our island work, they obviously have only indirect impact to our island friends.

During expeditions in the past few years we have been interviewed by local media (radio and television) and have been asked to give lectures on biodiversity at a number of schools and institutions, especially at the Instituto Superior Politecnico, thanks to Dra. Alizira Rodriguez, and also at a biodiversity conference under the auspices of Regional President Tosé Cassandra of Príncipe.

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Lecture at Instituto Politecnico Superior in Sao Tome (Phot. A. Stanbridge, GG V)

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Local high school lecture (Phot A. Stanbridge, GG V)

These have been excellent opportunities to communicate directly to advanced students and conservation workers (through a translator), but the information still does not get down to the fishermen, the kids, or the people in the market places.

Sometime in 2010, before GG IV, it occurred to me that we might be able to reach the local populations visually. One of the things we have that nobody else has is outstanding images, not just of pretty beaches and Câo Grande, but of the unique living plants and animals themselves! And we know what they are, and sometimes where they came from. So, I put together a series of powerpoint mockups of colorful biodiversity posters on my laptop, and during GG IV Ishowed them to everyone who would look; they all seemed to like the colorful montages.

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Roberta Ayres (CAS) and Roberta dos Santos (STeP UP). [GG IV, from V. Schnoll presentation, 2011]

During GG IV, one of the expedition members was Roberta Ayres, MSc., an Academy educator who runs our nature center (see earlier blogs). Roberta’s mission was to assess the level of knowledge of biodiversity in the islands’ school system, assess the likely impact of the posters, and to discover what else we might do to raise biodiversity awareness through the schools. I have written a number of blogs about how the posters were ultimately produced, thanks largely to the efforts of Velma Schnoll, Docent Coordinator and Jim Boyer of our CAS Docent Council (see below) and with funding from STeP UP.

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Posters, GG V. from V. Schnoll presentation, 2011.

Gulf of Guinea Expedition V was a largely educational mission dedicated to the distribution on both islands (see earlier blogs) of the 200 posters we produced, and this was accomplished by Mrs Schnoll, Andrew Stanbridge (our photographer), and I, along with a host of local friends, including Marnie Saidi of Príncipe and Antonio Fernando of São Tomé. A very central figure in all of our endeavors, both scientific and educational since the very first expedition in 2001 has been Quintino Quade of STeP UP. Readers will know that he appears in virtually every blog since the first one.

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Poster distribution. [all photos A. Stanbridge-GG V; from V. Schnoll presentation, 2011]

At the same, we continued to pursue information on our ultimate goal which is the creation of a Gulf of Guinea Biodiversity Center, a place on the islands where the citizens can access all of the information being gathered about the environment, and which can serve as a clearing house for all science and natural history research on the islands. Over the years, we have shared this idea with many citizens and foreign researchers on São Tomé and Príncipe.

In Part I of this blog, I described the scientific goals of GG VI (which begins next month) and introduced the investigators who will be on the expedition. The education component (Part II) is meant to build upon the efforts of GG V, and two educators will be coming along as well: Roberta Ayres (GG IV) and Velma Schnoll (GG V).

Like the overall project, our biodiversity education efforts have morphed into a team with Mrs. Velma Schnoll as Biodiversity Education Project Manager. After much debate (including the possibility of an animated cartoon), the team decided to produce 2,000 coloring books for young elementary school students, featuring the same endemic species that appear on the posters of last year. We have selected four primary schools on São Tomé and, of course, the one in Santo Antonio, Príncipe as our trial sites.

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The Biodiversity Education Team (l-r): T. Daniel (science advisor), V. Schnoll (project manager), J. Boyer (chief illustrator and production), C. Schneider and S. V. Edgerton (fine art), R. Ayers (text and translation) and M. Murakami (graphics and production). Absent : L. & C. Rocha (translation) and E. McElhinny (cartography). [Phot RCD]

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The team at work [Phot V. Schnoll]

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Velma Schnoll, project manager, with initial page layout [phot RCD]

The coloring books are being printed as I write;

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Thanks to Mike Murakami’s friend, Richard Engle, proprietor of Solstice Press, Oakland California, we got a very favorable discount on the printing costs. So, here is what they will look like:

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The front cover artwork is by Sean Vidal-Edgerton. Sean and Corlis Schneider (back cover art) were both in a biological illustration program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and California State University, Monterey Bay. In 2011, this group produced a wonderful on-line account of our São Tomé and Príncipe biodiversity research: http://sciencenotes.ucsc.edu/2011/pages/eden/eden.html We were extremely fortunate that they joined us.

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The inside back and front covers have color images of the same living plants and animals that are illustrated in the cartoons.

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This is a spread of the full contents of the book; except for the first two pages, the cartoons will not necessarily be in this order. The two game pages will be in the middle of the book.

Here are a couple of Jim Boyer’s fabulous cartoons as they will appear as full pages:

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The Giant Begonia and Newton’s sunbird, both endemic to Sao Tome.

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The Principe puddle frog found only on that island.


Back cover Sao Tome e Principe coloring book

Again, the back cover artwork is by the talented artist, Corlis Schneider. As the logos indicate, much of the production costs of this project have been provided by a Goldman Fund donation to STeP UP, one of our main partners on the islands. Africa’s Eden is already well known to readers of this blog; the rest of us are volunteers.

So, Part II of Gulf of Guinea Islands Expedition VI is the distribution of the coloring books. Moreover, Roberta Ayres and Velma Schnoll have produced a teacher’s guide incorporating both the books and the posters with island evolutionary principles, and they hope to conduct a workshop for teachers in São Tomé and later on Príncipe.

Now, all we have to do is get 2,000 of these books to the islands by hand, and somehow procure enough colored pencils (crayons do not work well on the Equator) over there for the kids.

As usual I will post from the islands.

Here’s the parting shot:

atopochlis-exerata1


Atopochlis exerata, one of the many unique snails on the islands. Photo by M Morais, courtesy of A. Gascoigne]

PARTNERS

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

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


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