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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

August 2, 2013

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

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

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

tedx poster

me at tedx

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

Team 7

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

saotome_poster small

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

 

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

Tetramorium renae

Tetramorium renae, Photo by CAS Project Lab.

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

Usnea  NM phot

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

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

3X6A4358 AS

 

3X6A4368as

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

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

 

Rayna 2

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

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

Pochyta

Pochyta sp. Phot. T. Szuts, GG VII

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

salti 1a

 

salti 2b

T. Szuts photos. GG VII

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

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

Praia Inhame 2

Praia Inhame, São Tomé 2013; unknown photographer

Praia Inhame

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

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

P from Jockey's Bonnet

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

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


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”


February 23, 2013

The Race: Endemicity and Gulf of Guinea Expedition VII (I. the Scientists)

Readers may recall that last March, prior to GG VI, I gave several lectures in Portugal on Gulf of Guinea island biodiversity. The last was an international colloquium on São Tomé and Príncipe held at the University in Lisbon. There I met a number of the participants, among whom were old friends and a delightful entomologist named Dr. Luis Mendes; Luis and I remained in contact, and he has just published and sent me the most up-to date survey of the butterfly fauna of the islands butterfly fauna.

BUTTERFLIES

Photo by Luis Mendes

As we have learned to expect, the endemicity (uniqueness) level is high. Luis and his colleague, Bivar de Sousa, report 111 species present on both islands, 29 of which are found nowhere else in the world. Thus, fully a quarter of the butterflies (26%) are endemics. This is further testimony to the great age of these islands, as we know that genetic change (evolution) occurs with isolation and time. Last month, another paper appeared by Loureiro and Pontes confirming the endemic status of a species of dragonfly, Trithemis nigra found only on Príncipe but not seen for many years.

best Trithemis_nigra_PI_NSL_0213

Photo of Trithemis nigra byNuno Loureiro

The image below is a summation of our current knowledge of  some of the insect endemicity on the two islands; much of the data upon which this summation is based are very old, and so much more work needs to be done.

INSECTS

photo: www images:  CAS construct.

We are getting ready for GG VII (April-May), and below is our new logo for the expedition; note that the famous Cobra bobo, a legless amphibian found only on São Tomé has been joined by an endemic Príncipe snake, also called Cobra bobo but entirely unrelated. (The cartoons of both animals were made by my graduate student, Dashiell Harwood, and the layout was by a member of our Biodiversity Education Team, Michael Murakami.

logo

GG VII (2013) logo.

Jimmy

James Shevock of CAS; photo A. Stanbridge- GG VI

Jim Shevock, a world-class bryologist, will be joining us for the third time. As you can see from the data above, he has already greatly increased our knowledge of mosses and their relatives on the islands, and there are still many species to be found. For example, during GG VI last year, Jim returned to the same locality along the Rio Papagaio in Príncipe that he had collected during GG V; in GG VI and found many plants he did not find the first time, including 10 of them new to the country! Jim has worked a lot in Asia and his nickname on Taiwan is “Little Bear.”

Rayna

Rayna Bell at Caxuiera, Sao Tome. A.  Stanbridge phot – GG VI

Rayna Bell is a graduate student from Cornell University. During GG VI she studied possible hybridization between the two endemic São Tomé treefrog species Hyperolius thomensis and H. molleri and currently has a paper in press on her work with us last year. This year we will try to find the elusive tadpole (larva) of the Príncipe giant treefrog which remains undescribed. Leptopelis palmatus is the largest treefrog in Africa.  Speaking of herpetology, to date our CAS island specimens and tissues have been used in 33 scientific publications, internationally!

Tom

Dr. Tom Daniel, Lagoa Amelia, Sao Tome.  RCD phot, GG III

Dr. Tom Daniel is a veteran of GG III and GG IV. Our senior botanist, he is a specialist on the flower family Acanthaceae (shrimp plants); in the picture above, he is standing in Lagoa Amelia next to Heteradelphia, a genus we think is endemic to São Tomé. He has done a lot of work on ferns and other Gulf of Guinea plant groups as well.

Tamas final

Dr. Tamas Szuts with some of his critters – Tszuts photos

Dr. Tamas Szuts is an expert on jumping spiders of the family Salticidae. He was a post-doctoral fellow here at the Academy under Dr. Charles Griswold (GG I) and will be joining the team for the first time. He is now on the faculty of the University of West Hungary. Salticids are about the only spider  group I think are kind of cute, face to face!

Miko

Miko Nadel, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge photo. GG VI

Miko Nadel is a graduate student at San Francisco State University under Prof. Dennis Desjardin (GG II, GG III). After making a comprehensive lichen collection during GG VI, he has decided to focus his research on the lichen genus Usnea; these are the hanging, pendulous lichens known in the US as “old man’s beard.”

droo better

Andrew Stanbridge at Laguna Azul, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge photo. GG VI

We will once again be documented by the world’s largest photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, veteran of GG V and GG VI. Andrew was one of those who ascended the Pico do São Tomé last year (see last April blog). His obvious photographic skills are only part of what he brings to our expeditions.

bob-1

Dr. Bob Drewes with Regional President of Principe, Hon. Jose Cassandra.  A. Stanbridge phot.  GG VII

I will be leading the trip as usual and will attempt to answer the ongoing question: do I have to wear a tie to see President Jose, or do I not have to wear a tie? .. Never quite seem to get it right.

The second part of the blog will be focused on the education team and our plans for Gulf of Guinea VII

Here’s the Parting Shot:

incredible Principe

Incredible Principe Island. A. Stanbridge 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”.


December 16, 2011

The Race: Our Omali Base and Year’s Odds and Ends.

Year’s end and things are busy, even in Academia. Here at the Academy, we are already in planning mode for GG VI but more on that in coming months. We are awaiting the publication of more of our discoveries, and I will report them here as they appear. In the meantime this is a good opportunity to thank all of you who have helped make next year’s expedition a probability: the Herbst Foundation, the “Blackhawk Gang”, and the California Academy of Sciences Docent Council.

As readers know, our mission is not only to discover and scientifically describe what is on these wonderful old islands but to let others know about it, especially the citizens. But, this also includes the business visitor and tourists primarily interested in fishing or ocean activities. The neat unique critters we are studying are not just isolated up in the higher reaches of the forest; many can be found right downtown. You just have to look.

On the beach of Praia Lagarto, between the airport and downtown São Tomé, lies the Omali Lodge. Originally built by a Mr. Hellinger, I remember it in its original incarnation as the Marlin Beach Hotel, one of the best bars in the islands– a real gathering place. It is small and quite upscale but it retains its original flavor. Folks who know the islands or have been well informed stay at the Omali; it attracts rather fascinating people.

toes-by-velma5

Omali Lodge. [Photo and toes - V. Schnoll GG V]

The Omali is pretty fancy digs for a bunch of bush biologists like us but luckily, the Omali’s owners have supported our work by allowing us to stay there during our last three expeditions. As comfortable and friendly as the Omali is, the central thing for our work is a dependable power source (although a post-fieldwork dip in the pool is not too shabby!)

omali-weck1

The Omali. [Weckerphoto GG III]

So as a new visitor, if you walk through the foyer and bar out to the back to the pool, you will first be struck by the enormous coconut palms. Ignore them for now; to the left around the back of the kitchen, and behind the rockwork in the pool (above) are several other palm-like trees that aren’t!

screw-pine1

Pandanus thomensis fruit (r) and prop roots (l). [T. Daniel GG III, IV]

These are the São Tomé screw pines, Pandanus thomensis. You can tell them from the palms by the fact that the base of each tree is supported by a number of prop roots (see right, above). Obviously, these are neither pines nor coconuts; the important thing to know is that these trees are found only on São Tomé, nowhere else in the world.

macu21

Trachylepis maculilabris [D. Lin, GG II]

As you walk along the pool, the first quick movement in the grass is likely to be a speckle-lipped skink, particularly common during the heat of the day. These lizards are not unique to the islands but they are very good dispersers across oceanic barriers, and they are found on many of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands. Some of our colleagues have looked at the genetics of the São Tomé and Prìncipe skinks and suggest that while they are not endemics, they have been on the islands since long before man arrived.

lygo-thomensis-ju-iii

Lygodactylus thomensis. [J. Uyeda, GG III]

On the walls surrounding the pool and rooms lives the São Tomé day gecko, Lygodactylus thomensis, which shuttles in and out of the shade in search of insects. Most geckos are nocturnal creatures, but this group is secondarily diurnal. L. thomensis is a true endemic whose ancestors probably reached São Tomé millions of years ago; the same is true of its closest relatives, the Prìncipe day gecko, L. delicatus, and the Annobon day gecko, L. wermuthi.

scutellaridae-true-bug-weck1

Homoptera. (True bug).  [Weckerphoto, GG III

Most of the Omali plants are ornamentals from other parts of the world of course, but this does not mean they do not harbor fascinating species. Our photographer on GG III, Wes Eckerman took the photograph above of a homopteran bug on a bush near the Omali pool. Our entomologists have not been able to identify it beyond the Family Scutellaridae! It is highly likely that an enormous number of the islands’ insects remain to be discovered and described scientifically.

waxbill

Common waxbill, Estrilda astrild [Weckerphoto, GG III]

cordon-bleu1

Blue-cheeked cordon-bleu, Uraeginthus cyanocephala [Weckerphoto GG III]

Bird life around the pool is plentiful and entertaining. The most commonly seen birds in the Omali bushes are various finches and waxbills that are of African origin and possibly brought over from the mainland as pets by the Portuguese colonials (above). But the real specialty is the São Tomé Prinia. Prinias are Old World insectivorous warblers; there are about 30 species divided between Africa and Asia. Prinia molleri is the only member of this group in the islands and it is found only on São Tomé, from downtown all the way to the top of Pico at 2,000 meters. As common and seemingly fearless as this endemic little bird is, it is extremely difficult to photograph. It just won’t hold still.

prinia

Prinia molleri on Omali window sill [Weckerphoto GG III]

prinia2

Prinia molleri [Weckerphoto, GG III]

Finally, lying around the Omali pool it is impossible not to notice the noisy action up at the top of the palm trees. Part of the year the palm fronds seem to be inhabited mostly by vitelline masked weavers. Even when they are not around their distinctive nests from the year before are obvious.

weaver_vitelline_masked_soitorgoss_daudi_2007_03_19_2b1

Vitelline masked weaver [Tanzaniabirds phot]

These weavers are native but not unique to the islands although some ornithologists recognize them as a distinct race (or subspecies, Ploceus velatus peixotoi) indicating that they may have been isolated from the mainland long enough to be recognizably different from the mainland species. These weavers are not found on Prìncipe. All who know them would agree that weavers are a noisy group in general.

When we are working on the islands, usually March-May, the weavers are rather scarce and instead, their place in the palm trees seems to be taken up with the large island fruit bat, Eidolon helvum. These large bats are common on the African mainland where they are migratory; the São Tomé populations are thought to be the same species but do not migrate. They are eaten by many local people.

bat-eidolon-helvum1

Eidolon helvum [RCD, GG V]

An hour or so at the Omali pool at the right time of year is enough to learn that Eidolon is a very noisy animal as well. They seem to argue and fuss all day when they should be sleeping; the sight of the entire group flying off to feed at dusk is unforgettable.

velma

Fruit bats taking off at sunset. [V. Schnoll, GG V]

Bats are a group much in need of genetic study. There are a number of endemic species recognized by anatomical characters, but in most cases their true species status has not been tested molecularly as we have done with the Sao Tome shrew (see earlier blogs). The expert on the bats of these islands is my colleague Dr. Javier Juste of the Doñana Institute in Seville, Spain. In an earlier blog I reported that Dr. Juste was involved in the description of a new pipistrelle bat from Prìncipe – this is not yet published and is based in part on genetics. During the past few weeks, I have sent Javier some images of bats we have taken during past expeditions, and he has kindly tried to identify them for us.

bats-nova-cuba

Principe bats at Nova Cuba [Weckerphoto, GG III]

This is a group of bats we found at the old plantation of Nova Cuba, on Prìncipe. Currently recognized as Hipposideros ruber guineensis, they are thought to be a race of the red bat common on São Tomé but it would not surprise me if further analysis might prove them to be a distinct species.

hipposideros-ruber-guineaeensis

Hipposideros ruber guineensis. [Weckerphoto, GG III]

The photo below was taken by Wes during the day, on the ridge above Lagoa Amelia at about 1400 meters on São Tomé. Javier thinks it might be the endemic Hipposideros thomensis.

h-thomensis-lagoa-amelia

Hipposideros thomensis, Lagoa Amelia [Weckerphoto, GG III]

A final note on spiders; two previous blogs this year have dealt with spiders we have found in gardens, one of which turned out to be an endemic species. A few days ago, my colleague Angus Gascoigne of the Instituto Superior Politecnico sent me several photos of the spider below:

argiope1

Argiope orb weaver [Manuel Morais]

I took the photos in to our spider experts and they got quite excited. It is an orb weaver of a widespread genus but “this one is really different!” I suppose I should not be surprised, and Angus is collecting more as I write.

For all of you who observe them, Happy Holidays!

Here’s the Parting Shot:

parting

The Raison d’Etre.

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 Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the last three 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. 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.



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