A biodiversity Goldmine?

What We Are Doing.

Surprisingly, São Tom? and Príncipe have remained largely unstudied since the early 19th Century work of Portuguese biologists Fea, Greef and Newton. In spite of the wonderful but preliminary stuff discovered by these early biologists, São Tom? and Príncipe have remained “off the scientific beaten path”. Historically, the islands were used as major slave entrepots by the Portuguese and were of world importance in the production of sugar, coffee and then cacao. Lying 200 to 250 km off the coast of West African coast, the islands have always been rather remote, and even to this day, there is but one flight per week from Europe to São Tom? (via Lisbon) and only a couple from Libreville, Gabon. In spite of several hundred years of agricultural efforts, fairly large amounts of original forest remain in higher elevations that were simply too steep to be cultivated by the colonials. While the birds have been studied and a preliminary flora has been published, huge portions of the biodiversity of these unique islands remain completely unknown.

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Drs. Iwamoto and Drewes sampling fish. Principe GG I (D. Lin phot)

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Periopthalmus A Principe mudskipper GG I (D. Lin phot)

So what we are doing is the most basic work in science; we are hiking into these remaining natural areas and surveying them to find out what species live there, what their evolutionary relationships are and where they came from. Depending upon our different specialties, we work both by day and by night, collecting, sampling, photographing, recording, etc. Most of our material is brought back to the California Academy of Sciences for study, but much also goes out to specialists around the world. As systematists, our job is to explore and sample all of the elements of the fauna and flora. When new species are discovered, we must analyze and describe them. Systematics is the fundamental discipline upon which all other biological work depends, especially including conservation efforts. You cannot save what you do not know.

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Grad student R. Stoelting. Night work on Sao Tome GG I (RCD phot)

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Giant gecko (H. greefii) Principe GG II (D. Lin phot)

WHY A “RACE”?

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Exclusive Economic Zone, Rep. Sao Tome and Principe.
As the title “Island Biodiversity Race” implies, there is a significant element of urgency in our work. The islands of the are about to undergo profound change, and the reason is oil. The exclusive economic zone of the Republic includes areas in the Gulf of Guinea where oil has been discovered. This means that at the very least, there will be a huge influx of revenue into this tiny republic of less than 300,000 people, and along with this revenue will come enormous pressure to expand infrastructure and a consequent burgeoning of the human population. History repeatedly shows us that such a phenomenon almost always affects natural wild areas negatively. Thus, It is our purpose to learn as much about the flora and fauna of the islands as quickly as we can, before the changes come. We hope to demonstrate to the citizens of the Republic of São Tom? and Príncipe the unique biological nature of their islands and enable them to make informed decisions down the road. We hope to show what they, and for(and for that matter, the rest of the world) stand to lose without adequate stewardship.

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Kids at Santa Catarina, Sao Tome GG II (D. Lin phot)

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Sao Tome GG II (D. Lin phot)

In this blog, I will describe the Third California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Expedition (GGIII) as it unfolds. Each expedition is made up of scientists chosen because their specialties are poorly known on the islands. The following URL describes our goals, the participants in the first two expeditions, and our scientific progress since the first expedition in 2001 (GGI).

PARTNERS We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Research Investment 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/ and especially the generosity of three private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom and Timothy M. Muller, for making GG III possible. http://research.calacademy.org/research/herpetology/bdrewes/

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3 thoughts on “A biodiversity Goldmine?”

  1. This area sounds so beautiful and fascinating, as well. Too bad oil has been discovered. Reminds me of the rapidly shrinking of the Amazon Rainforest, due to deforestation for lumber and the burgeoning of the cattle industry there. Not only endangered species threatened, but the native cultures, as well. I wish you luck on all your endeavors to save this tiny paradise.

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