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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

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”.


April 8, 2012

The Race: Gulf of Guinea VI, First week

Having completed my lectures at CIBIO near Porto, and in the symposium on Sao Tome and Principe in Lisbon, I hooked up with Drs Tomio Iwamoto, Brian Simison, and James Shevock, Miko Nadel and our outstanding photographer, Andrew Stanbridge in the Lisbon airport whereupon we paid gobs of money in overweight charges to TAP airlines (coloring books). The first six of us arrived at the Omali and have been working in various sites for a week until we were joined by Rayna Bell on the Friday morning flight. Rayna is the Cornell grad student who is looking at some interesting genetic problems with the treefrogs here. Early on I paid visits to Arlindo Carvalho, Director General of the Ministry of the Environment and Victor Bonfim, Director of Conservation to pay our respects and request our authorizations.

All of the photos below are by Andrew Stanbridge.

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The first six of us; lunch at Angolares, southeast Sao Tome

So far, we have found no limpets! Small barnacles, yes; marine mollusks, yes; but no true limpets. Brian is pretty much sampling everything but his specialty critters do not seem to be here. Whether or not there is some chemical feature of the volcanic rock that renders the rocks uninhabitable remains a question. Perhaps Principe will be different.

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Brian Simison (right) searching rocks on Sao Tome west coast.

Jim Shevock has already found two bryophyte families new to the islands, both on the Macambrara road at about 1100 meters. This is Jim’s second trip; in GG IV, he made some 800 collections, so this is stuff we missed.

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Jim reaching for hanging bryophytes on the Rio Abade

Miko Nadel, our grad student from San Francisco State, is conducting what we think is the first lichen survey ever of these oceanic islands- so everything is kind of new.

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Miko with captured lichen; on the road to Sao Nicolau.

Tomio Iwamoto, veteran of GG I and II is working closely with the Department of Fisheries and an NGO called MARAPA to produce a guide primarily for the local fishermen.

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Tomio inspects catches near Agua Ize

Yesterday, after Rayna’s arrival, we went up to inspect the large Olea tree which is our one locality for the unique Hyperolius thomensis. Like last year, we found no adults but there were old egg masses in both tree holes, and definitely tadpoles in one of them. The rains are upon us, and we are hoping that during the next couple of weeks the other smaller green species will appear. We are being assisted by old friends and a new one, a young Portuguese graduate named Joao Pedro Pio who works with Mariana Carvalho on the endemic maroon pigeon. I think Rayna and I, Pedro and a local guy from Nova Moca will go up at night to Lagoa Amelia (nearly 1500 meters) to try to collect Hyperolius molleri.

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Andrew Stanbridge continues to take brilliant pictures. He is much more of an asset to us than just his fabulous shots.

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Andrew with Bode, famed resident of the remote Bombaim. Bode sings the Portuguese national anthem in a truly appalling voice and sells cobra skins. (photo: Brian Simison)

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Me, bargaining for a side-necked turtle (Pelusios castaneus) at Ribeira Afonso

Tuesday, the two botanists and Andrew will go up to the top of the Pico, an area we have never collected. We are being taken there by our friends from Tropic Ventures, Andre, Hugo and Maneh. At the same time, Rayna and I will go out to Rolas Island to look for caecilians. They were collected on the island many years ago and we wish to add them to our genetic map of this unique species.

Here’s the parting shot.

parting-shotImagine thousands of hectares of oil palm between this boy and Cao Grande. It is happening.

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:

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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”.


February 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miko Nadel and lichens (from web)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The parting shot:

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

[Herbst]

PARTNERS

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


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.

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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!)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Common waxbill, Estrilda astrild [Weckerphoto, GG III]

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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.

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Prinia molleri on Omali window sill [Weckerphoto GG III]

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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.

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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”.


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