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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”


April 3, 2013

The Race: “Raising Awareness”- Gulf of Guinea Expedition VII (II. The Educators)

Our first contingent of six participants is leaving for São Tomé and Príncipe in about a week, with three additional joining us a week or two later.  As preparations continue, I want to reiterate the educational part of our on-going mission.  Readers will already know that big changes are coming to these two ancient and fascinating islands, mostly due to the discovery of oil within their Exclusive Economic Zone.  At the same time, the inhabitants of the island, a little less than 200,000 in number, are largely unaware of how biologically unique their islands are (as is much of the world, hence this blog and our 20+ scientific publications).  During GG IV, 2010, we assessed the level of biodiversity training in the local schools and decided to embark on a biodiversity education campaign.
Obviously, our small group cannot do this alone, nor should we, and so in describing our efforts so far, I must include some of the amazing citizens who have been and remain essential to our success.
Three of our most important local educators (and close friends) are Roberta dos Santos, Quintino Cabral Quade and Ned Seligman.

Ned Seligman (left), native San Franciscan, Founder and Director of STeP UP,  São Tomé  (D Lin phot.  GGI

I have known Ned since childhood in San Francisco, and it was at his urging that I first visited the islands in 2000.  He introduced me to Roberta and Quintino both of whom worked for his NGO at the time. Quintino took us all over the island and I was hooked.

Ned has had more than 25 years experience working with grassroots development organizations in Africa and was the Peace Corps Director in São Tomé and Príncipe for 3 years in the mid 1990′s. Before setting up STeP UP, a local development NGO on São Tomé, he worked for the World Wildlife Fund, World Learning, Catholic Relief Services, the American Friends Service Committee and the PeaceCorps. He received his B.A. from Yale University and a Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins University Ned is the founder and Director of STeP UP with which our educational work is closely associated. Ned’s house on Praia Francesa is our unofficial “home away from home.” His lunch salads are legendary!
roberta-ds

Roberta dos Santos (left) and me at primary school in São Tomé.  A. Stanbridge phot. GGVI

Roberta dos Santos is a member of a very old São Tomé family.  As a young girl, she was selected as a member of a group of São Tomeans to travel to the US to learn to teach English as a foreign language.  Roberta has worked with community-based organizations in São Tomé since 1990, when she started working for the Peace Corps as Assistant Director. Prior to the Peace Corps, she taught English for twenty years in São Tomé’s only high school and later at the Diocesan Institute Joao Paulo II. She received advanced training in TEFL for three years in Buffalo, NY. Having been born and raised on the hot tropical island of São Tomé, Roberta’s description of landing for the first time in Buffalo, New York in February, the dead of winter, is truly hysterical.  She is well known in the educational community, has helped us plan our school visits and vetted our educational materials.  She and Quintino usually join our school visits as translators.

roberta-planning-w-roberta

Roberta Ayres (left, CAS Science Educator) and Roberta dos Santos planning GG V poster campaign (RCD phot GG IV)

Quintino Quade graduated from the Teacher Training Institute “Tchico Te” in 1993 and was a teacher, first in a middle school and later in a high school in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau. During the war in that country, he emigrated to São Tomé and has been working with STeP UP since 1999.

q1

(l to r) Quintino Quade, Velma Schnoll, Bioeducation coordinator, me, Roberta Ayers, Science educator, during coloring book campaign of GG VI.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI

Quintino has been teaching English at the SAPEL school for many years, but he has also accompanied us and been actively involved in all of our scientific expeditions since the very beginning.

qs-first-snake

Quintino Quade  with his  first snake capture (dead)  RCD phot GGI

During GG V, we were most fortunate to meet Jorge Bom Jesus, Director of the Teacher Training institute and currently Minister of Education and Culture. Together we discussed the possibility of future Biodiversity training workshops for teachers at the Institute.

jorge-jesus-min

Discussing teacher biodiversity training with Jorge Bom Jesus (center), current Minister of Ed. Education

One of our strongest supporters and wisest counselors is Henrique Pinto da Costa.  Henrique is a former Minister of Agriculture and has always been interested in youth development; we discuss most of our education ideas with him.  He is the brother of the current President of the Republic, Manuel Pinto da Costa. We actually captured an endemic spider in his garden (see Sept 2, 2011 blog).

henrique

Henrique Pinto da Costa, examining biodiversity poster in 2011.  A. Stanbridge phot.-GGV

During GG V, the poster year, we met Francisca de Ceita, Principal of the largest primary school on São Tomé  (2500 students). She welcomed us to her school during GG VI, where we distributed 534 coloring books to 16 classes of third grade students.

francisca-de-ceita

Francisca de Ceita, Principal of São Tomé’s largest primary school.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Our biodiversity  education and scientific activities have always received tjeenthusiastic support of the Regional Present of Príncipe, Jose Cassandra.  We meet with him each year and inform him of our activities.

tose

Discussing the coloring book campaign with Regional President of Príncipe Jose Cassandra (center) and Secretary of Infrastructure Nestor Umbellina  (right). A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI.

During GG VI, we met the Director of Education and Health for Principe, Natalia Umbellina, and she helped us coordinate  our visits to the schools of that island.

natalia-umbelina-dir-ed-and-health-px

Natalia Umbellina Director of  Education and Health of Príncipe (far left – Madalena Patacho of Bom Bom Island) . A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI

Our educational aids for GG VII are sets of Biodiversity Activity Cards.  The cards were conceived and designed by the same great group of volunteers that produced the coloring books of GG VI (see “Sharing the Wealth” – March 2012), and we are most grateful to the Omali Lodge and Bom Bom Island for help funding the project

poker_size_box_310aicards

The Biodiversity Activity cards, our educational tools for GG VII

During GG VI, we visited 40schools, 67 classrooms and distributed 1823 coloring books to third graders.  In GG VII, beginning in April, our education team intends to visit the same classes in the same schools on both islands, only now the children will be fourth graders. Our educators, Velma Schnoll and Roberta Ayers have developed a series of games for the students to play at the same time increasing their awareness of the unique fauna and flora of both islands.

pen-pals-and-cards

Velma Schnoll, Bioeducation Coordinator (above) showing the cards to third graders at McKinley Elementary School in San Francisco. She is in the process of setting up a letter exchange between these students and the students of Porto Real, my adopted school on Principe.

Why kids, you ask?  I call it the “Ray Kroc model”.. For those of you who remember, Ray Kroc did not create McDonalds, the world’s most successful food chain, by advertising to adults–he advertised to the kids!

Here’s the parting shot:

angus-at-roca-abade-carlos-piniero-phot
Angus Gascoigne at Roça Abade, Príncipe.  phot Carlos Pinheiro.

Angus Gascoigne  died just last year; he was the foremost resident naturalist on the islands and an enormous help to both our scientists and investigators from around the world.

.
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 Tome http://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”


February 25, 2013

The Race: Two More New Species for São Tomé and Príncipe

Just as I was preparing to write more on the up-coming GG VII,  I received some great news. Long-time readers will recall that Gulf of Guinea III (B) in 2008 was a marine expedition that included a graduate student named Dana-Carrison Stone (see “Send in the Marines” and several subsequent blogs). Dana completed her MSC thesis a year or so ago, and has just published part of her dissertation that includes the description of two new species of barnacles. The publication is in ZooKeys 270.

dana-on-boat

Dana Carrison- Stone, off Príncipe Id with two boatmen and Dr. John McCosker, a specialist on marine eels here at CAS. Phot. B. Van Syoc, GG III
Dana’s barnacles grow on octocoral, also known as sea fans or gorgonians.  Some of the barnacles grow on a number of different host sea fans, but some are very host specific.

underwater

Dana off São Tomé examining a gorgonian for barnacles. Phot. M.P. Perez – GG III

conopea-saotomensis-barnacle3

Conopea saotomensis new species; Some of the gorgonian tissue has been cut away so that the shell of the new species can be readily seen. [D Carrison phot]

Dana discovered that the new C. saotomensis grows on at least 13 different species of sea fans, such as Eunicella, pictured below.

redwhitegorgonianwhole

Red and yellow gorgonian,  Eunicella, [ G Williams phot GG III]

conopea-fidelis

Conopea fidelis new species. [D. Carrison phot.)

However, the other new species, C. fidelis, is found only on a single species of gorgonian, Muriceopsis tuberculata see below, hence her choice of the species name, “faithful.”

muriceopsis-tuberculata

[G. Williams phot. CAS]
Ex São Tomé et Príncipe semper aliquid novi!
The Parting shot:

above-ponta-figo

Wash day at Generosa, Sao Tome.  B. Simison phot – GG VI.

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 Tome http://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”.


November 16, 2012

The Race: Flat Worms, A New Doctor and an Island Education Video

One of our most consistent and knowledgeable colleagues on the island of São Tomé has been Ricardo Lima, up until recently a graduate student at the University of Lancaster.

ricardo-lima-crossing-rio-lemba1

Ricardo Lima crossing the Rio Lemba, Sao Tome. (unknown phot)

Ricardo has been studying the effects of land use changes on the distribution of the endemic birds of São Tomé, and I am delighted that (1) he has just completed his PhD, (2) he has published a fine article on his research in the journal Diversity and Distribution, and (3) he is back on the big island having found funding for the continuation his research. This funding will also allow the reprinting of the biodiversity posters we distributed during GG V in 2011. Readers will recall we were able produce only 200 of these (see March – April 2011 posts).

ricardo-good

Dr. Ricardo Faustino de Lima being savaged by a Sao Tome malachite kingfisher (unknown phot)

Over the several years I have known him, Ricardo has sent us images and/or specimens of great interest to us both, including a freshwater fish we missed in our 2001 and 2006 river surveys (we still have not analyzed one), and especially the specimens of the endemic shrew, Crocidura thomensis which we subsequently studied genetically. Dr. Lima will be one of the authors when the shrew paper is completed. A year or so ago, Ricardo sent us some pictures of a strange, brightly colored flatworm called a terrestrial planarian or geoplanid.

plan-in-hand

Terrestrial planarian (geoplanid) (R. Lima phot.]

As delicate as these little terrestrial creatures appear, they are actually voracious predators upon snails, slugs, insects and earthworms. The known species have very narrow, specific habitat preferences and thus can be used as indicators of habitat types. Readers will recall that over 60% of the snails of São Tomé and Príncipe are found nowhere else in the world, including an endemic genus, Bocageia; if this geoplanid is an invasive, it may well be a real threat to the populations of endemic snails.

good-plan

Terrestrial planarian (geoplanid) (R. Rocha phot.)

Even with a better image in hand (above) we could not put a name on this animal. We have many experts here at CAS, but none specializes in this class of invertebrates, the Platyhelminthes. During GG VI last April, Miko Nadel, our lichenologist graduate student collected a specimen way up at 1700 meters on Pico do São Tomé (see Mountains that Glow, April 2012) and brought it back.

miko-and-jim-as

Miko Nadel (l) and Jim Shevock on Sao Tome [A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI]

Now with a specimen in hand, we needed to find an expert. Thanks to Dr. Shannon Bennett, Head of our Department of Microbiologist, we discovered Dr. Ronald Sluys, of the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis. Dr. Sluys has been sent the specimen and is “willing to give it a try!”. Apparently, there are not all that many experts in this field, and Ron says he will have to section our one specimen with a microtome in order to try to identify it. If it is new, we will try to get more for him; if it has a name, we can add yet another species to the remarkable biota of the islands.

Finally, our readers will know that since GG IV in 2010 we have been developing a biodiversity education program for the youth on both islands. Our volunteer group has put together a video describing the bio-ed project; this will be the first time I have tried to post a video on this blog. It is about 7 minutes long, and if it works, my thanks to Jim Boyer for his expertise.

YouTube Preview Image

Here’s the parting shot:

picos-joao-dias-pai-e-filho-5-principe-tdan

Picos Joao Dias Pai e Filho (father and son), Principe  [T. Daniel phot. GG IV)

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”.


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”


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