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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

February 20, 2009

The Race: Return of the Marines Redux!

I have just heard that Alex Kim, the student at Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Virginia has received the new freshwater prawns GG III (B) collected for him and is in the process of extracting DNA from the fresh tissues. As I mentioned in the last couple of blogs, Alex is a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, and we are very interested in his progress.  His results will add to our understanding of our own work and the biodiversity of these islands.  When Alex first contacted me, I had some concern that we might have neglected to bring prawns back with us from GG I and II.  We had, of course, and Alex has been studying some of the preserved specimens er brought to him in December.  Just yesterday I found an image of Dr. Tomio Iwamoto carefully processing these some of these same prawn specimens in 2006 on São Tomé (during GG II). This will give you an idea of the size of the critters Alex is studying (although there are two species on the islands – I am not sure which one this is!)

Tomio Iwamoto on Sao Tome.   RCD phot. GG II

The marine biologists of GG III (B) are busily sorting through their material, and I thought an early update was in order.   In the last blog I mentioned that the Dr. Williams had done very well with his octocorals (also known as gorgonians or sea fans), and so had Dr. Van Syoc and Dana Carrison with their barnacles. Dana is Bob Van Syoc’s graduate student at San Francisco State University.

Dana Carrison during a more northerly field trip. NOAA photo

Bob Van Syoc found an undescribed barnacle species on São Tomé during GG II, and it appears that Dana has now confirmed this for Príncipe as well.  And there may well be other new barnacle species; it is just too soon to tell.  Dana is studying the relationship between these barnacles and Dr. Williams’ sea fans.  This is an obligate relationship – some species of sea fans are always found in association with certain species of barnacles.

The barnacle Conopea calceola on a gorgonian.  D. Carrison phot. GG III

Note that the barnacle settles on the gorgonian, and the gorgonian’s tissue (red, in this case) grows up around it.  Along with describing new species and adding to our island biodiversity list, Dana is testing the hypothesis that the different species of barnacles have a preference for certain species of gorgonian upon which to settle. Dana got about 30 different Príncipe barnacles but has not yet begun identifying them or comparing them to the GG II barnacles collected in São Tomé.  Also included in her collections are at least three different gorgonians and their associated barnacles that were not collected previously by the Academy expeditions.

Undescribed species of Conopea on a different species of gorgonian.  D. Carrison phot. GG III

New barnacle species or the relationships of freshwater prawns may not sound exciting to you.  In our biodiversity race, we are studying everything we can, as biodiversity is the sum of all living species in a given area; thus, everything is important as a measure of the uniqueness and past history of these ancient islands.  Think of our mushroom work: before we started, there were only four species known from São Tomé and none from Príncipe; now the people of the islands know that there are at least 220 species, many of them undescribed and unexpected.  The same is true for the ant lions I have documented earlier, and I fully expect similar results when analysis of our collections of diatoms and spiders are completed.  The story of biodiversity can never be told by the study of furred and feathers critters alone.

Here’s the parting shot:

Incipient Dr. Uyeda with collecting party, Nova Cuba, Principe. Weckerphoto GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement  (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Bardero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, and the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murkami for helping make these expeditions possible.


Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 12:08 pm

February 11, 2009

The Race: Return of the Marines!

This is a brief update on the return of our people last weekend from Gulf of Guinea III (B). They were the marine component of the 2008-2009 expeditions (see Send in the Marines).  The focus of four of the group was the waters of Príncipe, the much older of the two islands.  The two fish people, Dr. John McCosker and David Catania went a week earlier to dive in São Tomé; neither had been to the islands before, and much of our earlier fish work was freshwater in nature. After the second group of four arrived, the whole expedition flew to Príncipe courtesy of SCD, one of our main sponsors (see “Partners,” below).

As I posted earlier, our first nudibranch (sea slugs) specialist, Dr. Marta Pola-Perez, was on the GG III (B) expedition.  Below are photos of a few of the critters she found.

A possible new species of Phidiana, Principe. Pola-Perez phot. GG III

Flabelina arveloi, Principe.  Pola-Perez phot. GG III

Hypselodoris bilineata, Principe. Pola-Perez phot. GG III

As I wrote before, Dr. Bob Van Syoc, his graduate student, Dana Carrison and Dr. Gary Williams are looking at corals and barnacles and the association between the two life forms.  Dana’s dissertation topic concerns the relationship between what we think is a new species of barnacle and one of Gary’s octocorals (sea fans).

A Sao Tome sea fan (Eunicella). G. Williams phot. GG III

This group did quite well on Príncipe; Bob and Dana collected a barnacle species previously known only from the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, Megabalanus azoricus, thus adding to the island diversity list.  Gary thinks he has now collected more species of octocorals in São Tomé and Príncipe than are found on the Galapagos Islands.

Grad student, Dana Carrison, with sea fan on Principe. B. Van Syoc phot. GG III

Dana, Gary Williams and John McCosker, Principe. B. Van Syoc phot. GG III

Of particular interest is that Bob found a species of shore barnacle at Bom Bom on Príncipe otherwise known only from South Africa. He thinks it was probably brought in by barge carrying building supplies.  So far it seems to be confined to the vicinity of the Bom Bom pier.

Bom Bom pier at night, Principe. Weckerphoto GGIII

John and Dave also well.  Although they said the diving was “spotty” they did manage to sample a bunch of neat stuff, including at least one definite new species.

A new species of Serranus from both islands.  D. Catania phot. GG III

Ichthyologists frequently find new species just by exploring fish markets.  Below is a pot of jacks for sale which John and Dave cannot identify to species.  They will need to compare the DNA of these fishmarket critters with other known species in the genus.

Unidentified species of Caranx in the fishmarket.  J. McCosker phot. GG III

As I have written before, another way for ichthyologists to sample the marine fauna is to get permission to buy odd specimens directly from beach seiners.

Sao Tome beach seine. J. McCosker phot. GG III]

This group was fishing in the bay near Omali Lodge (Marlin Beach Hotel), and like Dr. Iwamoto did during GG I,  John and Dave dealt directly with the seiners for unique specimens.  Detirmining the identity of all of this material takes a great deal of time, but for now it looks as though the Marines of GG III (B) did quite well.

I received some great news while the group was gone. Recall that I mentioned the marine group was going to collect some freshwater prawns for DNA work in a project by high school student Alex Kim in Virginia.  Well, the group got the prawns and by now they are back east being investigated by Alex and his mentor from George Mason University, Prof. Patrick Gillevet.  But the great news is that Alex is one of 40 finalists in the INTEL SCIENCE TALENT SEARCH; his project and scholarship are obviously gaining recognition, and we at the Academy are proud to be able to help out.

Alex has his own website: http://amphidrome.wordpress.com/

Here’s the parting shot: 

Growing up on Principe. R. Wenk photo. GG III

PARTNERS We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement  (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Bardero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, and the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami for helping make these expeditions possible.


Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 1:44 pm

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