The Race: Worth Two in the Bush…. Part II

Note: This blog and the preceding one are dedicated to the memory of our friend Bill Bowes, of the William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, who graciously lent his personal encouragement to and support for the GG IX, X and XI expeditions. We of the Gulf of Guinea team and the California Academy of Sciences will miss him very, very much.

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The São Tomé weaver (Ploceus sanctithomae] is a forest species known only from the big island. Phot. P. Loureiro.
During Gulf of Guinea IX, two years ago, our education effort was focused on the endemic bird species of both islands; as mentioned before, the bird fauna is hugely important; the two islands have perhaps the highest number of unique bird species by area in the world, 28 endemics/1000km ².

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The São Tomé Prinia. (Prinia molleri). The “Truqui” is found only on the big island and is probably the most common endemic species there (top photo. P. Loureiro.) As we visited the classrooms, each student got a pair of plastic binoculars (they work!), and our booklet that highlights some of the most beautiful species on both islands and their natural history (above, left and right. phots by A. Stanbridge).

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And, expedition patches are given by the teachers to 10 students who do the best work each year. (photo by A. Stanbridge, above)

Our intent is always to instill in the kids a sense of ownership for these species for their uniqueness and beauty: “No one else has these, even on the other island!”  The image below was taken by our senior educator, Roberta Ayres, but it might have been made anywhere little kids play. Regardless, we never preach in our classroom presentations; we present the species of the flora and fauna as rare and beautiful.

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Our Gulf of Guinea Islands project is indeed multiplex, and some of the most interesting scientific discoveries in past years have been made by graduate students in pursuit of higher degrees.

10_Me and Ricardo ringing the Ploceus grandis. This was during a teaching couse we were giving to our field guides. Extiment is noticeable (at least mine)

Recently, Ana P. Coelho (above middle), received her MSc degree in conservation biology from the University of Lisbon; her thesis advisor was our long-time colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima (left), whose earlier PhD thesis was also based on the island ecology.

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Field assistant Octavio, mist-nettng (A. Coelho phot.)
Ana studied the roles of birds in dispersing seeds on São Tomé.  Some 18 species of birds, all endemic, were systematically mist-netted (above), and ring-banded (below). Their droppings were studied over time to determine what seeds the fruit-eating (frugivorous) species were eating. The field/data collection part of the study was several months in duration.

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Ana banding an endemic  São Tomé scops owl , Otus hartlaubi. (A. Carvalho phot)

Of the 18 species captured and released, nine were frugivorous, and Ana showed that the great majority of seeds they ate were in the fruit of endemic or native plant species.  Some species of non-native plants were ingested and dispersed as well.

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Birds of larger size (and thus larger beak gape) eat larger fruit (above).

This relationship among endemics makes evolutionary sense. We know that the accumulation of genetic (and morphological) change leading to the evolution of new species takes isolation and time. This is as true for the consumer (the birds) as it is for the energy source (the fruit of the plants). So one can suggest that the birds and the seed plants upon which they feed co-evolved over thousands of years. The birds benefit from the fruits of the plants and in turn, the plants’ seeds are carried to distant environments (along with fertilizer) in the bird droppings.

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The São Tomé speirops  (above) is by far the most frequent seed disperser; Ana found this endemic produced 84% of all droppings containing seeds. .

However, it should be noted that in this case, the birds are also responsible for a rather difficult conservation issue. Through seed dispersal of endemic plants, they are contributing to native forest regeneration,  but because they also disperse a number of non-native plant species, the birds are also involved in biological invasion – the spread of alien species..

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Above is an additional endemic predator/prey relationship: a São Tomé house snake ingesting a São Tomé giant tree frog; both species are endemic to the big island. (Matthias Neumann phot. )

Another recent graduate student contributor to our scientific knowledge of Gulf of Guinea biology is Matthias Neumann (below), who recently completed his MSc in biology at the University of Kassel in Germany.

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(M. Neumann phot)

Matthias spent a couple of months in the islands last year collecting and studying geoclads (flatworms), many species of which are known to be predatory on snails.
We have made the point in earlier blogs that these flatworms are potentially very important because the land snail fauna of both islands is over 70% unique, and if these flatworms are recent arrivals, they may pose a real danger to the existence of the endemic snails.  Prior to Matthias’ field investigations almost nothing was known about the island flatworm fauna except for some random observations by some of us working in the forests (see earlier blogs).

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Mathias (left) with field assistant, Lionel; a geoclad feeding on a terrestrial snail (right). M. Neumann phots.
Matthias was successful in completing his degree, and his work has recently been published: Sluys R., M. Neumann, R.F. de Lima, & R, C. Drewes. 2017. Land flatworms (Platyhelminthes, Geoplanidae) of São Tomé: a first account on their diversity, with the description of five new species. Zootaxa 4221 (3): 291–322.

 

Matthias estimates that there at least as many additional undescribed flatworm species on the islands awaiting identification and study.  Two of the species he has discovered so far are definitely snail predators. If these two species are long-time inhabitants of the islands, it is likely they have co-evolved with their snail prey, a situation probably not unlike the endemic bird/endemic plant relationship studied by Ana Coelho. There is so much more to be learned in these islands.

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As Ana’s and Matthias’s photos above suggest, both of these young scholars are born naturalists, interested in a wide range of living species. The images include a freshwater blenny, a freshwater shrimp, a São Tomé house snake and a giant sunbird, all endemic or native to the islands.

The Parting Shot:

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Dr. Cesar Garcia, of Lisbon, working on Principe. Fieldwork is always exhausting, occasionally painful but forever a joy!
PARTNERS
Our research and educational expeditions are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund*.” We are grateful for ongoing governmental support from the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, and especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment and to Faustino de Oliviera of the Department of Forestry 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, our “home away from home”. GG IX, X and XI have been funded in part by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Rod C. M. Hall, Mr. and Mrs. Henri Lese, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, in memory of Paul Davies Jr. and a heartening number of Bohemian friends. We are grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (HBD-São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Africa’s Eden-Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging.
*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118

The Race: A Bird in the Hand…Part I

Principe Island looking south toward Rio Porco, site of the new discovery.  A. Stanbridge phot.

The birds of São Tomé and Príncipe are truly spectacular and by rights should be a major birdwatchers tourist destination.  The island avifauna is probably the best understood of the terrestrial vertebrates and since our research concentrates on poorly known species, our expeditions have never included an ornithologist and the incredible bird life appears only occasionally in this blog.  Recent events require further attention.

Birds have fascinated amateurs and scientists alike from very early on in the history of science; because of this strong and enduring attention, the discovery of new, undescribed bird species is rather infrequent and thus quite exciting.

The Principe scops owl, valley of the Rio Porco. phot  P. Verbelen

After some 90 years of rumors and speculation, Felipe Spina of Fauna & Flora in Santo Antonio and Philippe Verbelen of Belgium discovered there is, in fact, an owl species living on Príncipe Island! It has finally been seen, photographed (above) and recorded by these gentlemen in the remote southern valley of the Rio Porco, in July, 2016.

Scientists know very little about the new owl beyond discovery that it exists. We do know that the call of the little owl is very different from the call of other known scops species.

The Sao Tome scops owl,  Otus hartlaubi. Phot. Hotspot Birding.

But how many owls are there in these rugged, trail-less valleys, and how widely are they distributed on the island? Is it really a new species, genetically distinct from the nearby São Tomé scops owl, Otus hartlaubi? (above) There are three widely distributed species on the mainland, plus two found exclusively in different East African coastal forests (below), and there is another island endemic in the Indian Ocean (Socotra).

Sokoke scops owl, known only from the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest of coastal Kenya.  phot. of red phase by Syczek Brunatny.]

How do the Gulf species relate to other scops owls? These basic questions can only be answered by detailed genetic and morphological examination of a live specimen; future work is being planned and led by Dr. Martim Melo of CIBIO, Porto, Portugal, the foremost expert on the birds of São Tomé and Príncipe. Martim first heard this owlet in 1998 and has been searching for it ever since!

The non-wading bird assemblage of São Tomé and Príncipe may represent the highest level of unique species in the world, by area.  Above is an image comparing the bird faunas of the two Gulf islands with the famous Galapagos, a much larger archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. The Galapagos are justly famous, but it is interesting to note that the majority of endemic bird species there evolved from a very few colonizers; for instance, the celebrated Darwin’s finches are all each others’ closest relatives.

Principe glossy starling, Lamprotornis ornatus. Roca Belo Monte. Phot. P. Loureiro.

The São Tomé and Príncipe avifauna is much richer in different evolutionary lineages; these range from endemic starlings (above), weavers and an oriole to unique sunbirds, kingfishers and flycatchers.

Sao Tome giant weaver. Phot by. Nik Borrow

Among this rich assemblage are several species that are excellent examples of the phenomena of island gigantism and dwarfism discussed in earlier blogs.  For instance, the largest weaver bird in the world (70+ species) is the giant weaver (Ploceus grandis, above), endemic to São Tomé.  The world’s largest sunbird (Dreptes thomensis, below) is a species also unique to São Tomé.

Sao Tome giant subird.  phot. Fabio Olmos

Sunbirds are Old World, nectar-feeding equivalents of the New World hummingbirds. The two groups are not closely related, but they converge greatly in appearance and behavior because they fill the same ecological niche in their respective geographic areas.

Above, the giant sunbird is shown on the right, together with Newton’s sunbird, itself an endemic species; photo taken after banding by Dr. Martim Melo.  Like the giant hummingbird of the Andes, the giant hummingbird is also drab in coloration.

São Tomé dwarf ibis. phot. Nik Borrow

There are 27 species of ibis, world-wide; the smallest by far is the São Tomé dwarf ibis, (above, Bostrychia bocagei); there is but a single population of these birds living in the remote southern forest of the big island, and they are severely threatened by poaching for food and the expansion of a large oil palm plantation to the south.

Many of the unique birds on the two islands are singletons; i.e. they are the only representative of their group on one of the two islands, with no relatives on the other.

São Tomé oriole, Oriolus crassirostris. 

These endemic flycatchers are also sexually dimorphic]

Among the other endemic species are pairs represented by one closely related species on each island.  When these species are each other’s closest relatives, they are called “sibling species; however, they can be very similar in appearance and behavior because they fill the same ecological niche on each island- not because they are each others’ closest relatives.

 

 

Each island has a thrush species; the Principe thrush (right), newly discovered, is obviously similar and related to that of the big island, but they are not necessarily each others’ closest relatives.  Dr. Melo has determined by genetic study that their ancestral colonizers arrived at very different times from the mainland. Recall that Principe is geologically twice as old as Sao Tome. If the ancestor of the thrush on Sao Tome dispersed from Principe, they would be siblings, but as Dr. Melo has shown, both species descended  from mainland ancestors at different times.

Many other intriguing bird pairs are found on the islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A number of much earlier workers considered some of the islands’ bird species so distinct that they deserved their own generic names, and traditionally, there were seven unique genera recognized on the islands (including the giant sunbird, and Speirops, above).   Dr. Melo has shown that even though some of these are dramatically different in appearance from relatives, this similarity is the result of relatively recent selection pressures and genetically, they should still be included within pre-existing genera.

END OF PART I

Here’s the parting shot.

The 2016 education team at Bom Bom island bridge, PrÍncipe Id.: Dr. Maria Jeronimo (left), the author,  and Roberta Ayres]

Note: This blog, Part II to follow, is dedicated to the memory of our friend Bill Bowes, of the William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, who graciously lent his personal encouragement and financial support to and for the GG IX, X and XI expeditions.  We of the Gulf of Guinea team and the California Academy of Sciences will miss him very, very much.

 

THE RACE: At Play in the Fields of a “Lost World”

THE RACE: At Play in the Fields of a “Lost World”

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“Jita,”the Principe house snake (above, Lamprophis); the Sao Tome form is striped, not blotched.  They are different species from each other and from mainland relatives, and we are in the process of describing them.

As I began to write this, Drs Lauren Esposito and Rayna Bell were spending their second rain-drenched night camping in the rugged southern end of Príncipe, accompanied by biologist Felipe Spina of the Príncipe Trust and local guide, Balô.  Like the botanists a week and a half ago, they traveled by boat (there are no roads in the southern two-thirds of the island) to the Rio Porco, which drains an isolated valley where a likely new species of Scops owl was recently discovered by Felipe. It had been pouring rain since they left, and we had just learned (by lucky text) that they proceeded to the top of Pico Mesa! So for the first time ever, we have had two different teams exploring this remote and difficult “lost world” on Príncipe Island. The team has since returned, safe and sound, and we are now back on São Tomé-the big island

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The Belo Monte boat; Pico Mesa in the background.

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Left, Filipe Spina, Principe Trust biologist with Rayna Bell.

Lauren is a relatively new Academy faculty member of our Entomology Department who specializes on the biology of scorpions.  But given that only one species has ever been recorded here (by us on São Tomé in 2001), she is donning the cloak of general arachnologist, sampling spiders, amblypigids and other poorly known island invertebrate faunas. She thus joins the ranks of earlier expedition members such as Drs. Charles Griswold, Joel Ledford, and Tamas Szuts of Hungary.

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Above is Isometrus, the only scorpion species known from the island; this specimen is from the basalt cliffs of the northwestern part of the island. Scorpions glow under ultraviolet light.  Lauren has also been very involved with our education project; she brings the experience of having founded and continues to run an extensive similar program in the West Indies.

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Rayna Bell (above) has returned as a team member for the  fifth time. After completing her postdoctoral appointment at the University of California, she became the new curator of herpetology at the Smithsonian Institution, our U.S. National Museum.

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Among her recent discoveries is that the green tree frog of Príncipe (above) is quite  different from its similar counterpart on São Tomé; the scientific description will be published this month and will bring the amphibian biodiversity of the islands to eight endemic species! Rayna is also studying development (egg mass below)

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The new green tree from of Principe Island.

.Dr. Bell is currently working on understanding more about the biology of the enigmatic Príncipe giant tree frog, Leptopelis palmatus. Prior to our 2001 expedition this largest of African tree frogs was known only from a single female specimen collected over 100 years ago. During our first work on Príncipe, we were able to collect and describe the much smaller males of this species but even to this day, the larvae (tadpoles) remain unknown. As can be seen above, the highly variable colors and patterns in this species are very unusual; they exhibits  a high level of color and pattern polymorphism. The reason for this is unclear;  in such cases, this variation is usuall due to  natural selection for crypsis (camouflage), mate recognition or sexual dichromatism. We have no evidence that the frogs are particularly distasteful or toxic to predators; i.e., warning or “aposematic” coloration.

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Also, adult tree frogs of this species appear to attain sexual maturity at varying sizes; reproductively mature males and females on the mainland usually attain a fairly narrow range of size.  Early indications suggest this is probably not the case with the giant tree frog of Príncipe, where mature females appear to vary in size within 20-30mm.

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Maria Adelina Jeronimo has returned with us for her second expedition, having completed all but her thesis defense for her PhD at the New University of Lisbon (Gulbenkian Institution).  She is an expert on butterfly genetics, and particularly interested in environmental influences upon gene expression. In GG IX, she worked with Dr. Luis Mendes specimens to support his monograph of the island lepidoptera.

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Lauren and Maria (right) working at night on Sao Tome.

Most of Maria’s specimens (below) must be examined in the laboratory before they can be postively identified.

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In addition to continuing to sample butterfly and moth species in the field, she has been closely involved the production and presentation of our primary school biodiversity awareness program. As readers already know, this program annually reaches around 2,000 third, fourth or fifth grade students in different schools on both islands.

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As a last project, the team went south on Sao Tome into the habitat of the endemic ibis, the Galinhola. This endemic is the smallest ibis in the world and is highly endangered by habitat loss and hunters seeking bush meat.  And below is the endemic gecko, Hemidactylus greeffi, found only on Sao Tome

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Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi; indeed, there is always something new out of Africa.I have just learned that Drs Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry just published the 4th scientific paper based on their collections made on Sao Tome and Principe much earlier (Gulf of Guinea expeditions II and III).

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To date, they have added 25 new species records for the two islands and described six unique, endemicss.  There is a great deal of material yet to be examined; they estimate there are many more undescribed fungi in the collection.Here’s the Parting Shot:

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Members of Gulf of Guinea IX dining with our old friend and host, Ned Seligman of the NGO, STeP UP.  Left to right, Rayna Bell, Cesar Garcia, Lauren Esposito (small son of Danny’s, Bob, Ned, Roberta Ayres, Tom Daniel, Maria Jeronimo and Jim Shevock.

PARTNERS

Our research and educational expeditions are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund.”*  On the islands, we are grateful for ongoing governmental support, and especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General of the Ministry of the Environment and Faustino de Oliviera of the Forestry Department,  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, our “home away from home”. Gulf of Guinea XI has been funded in part by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”.  Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (HBD-São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Africa’s Eden-Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging, and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of the production of our primary school, biodiversity awareness education program.

*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118
USA

The Race: Updates and Progress in Paradise

The new header image of Príncipe Island from the east (above) was made by our friend, Jan Fourie, of Africa’s Eden; Príncipe is 31 million years old and was much, much larger in the Oligocene.

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Revisiting the famous “Bode of Bombaim” with cobra skin in hand, along with our indefatigable photographer, Andrew Stanbridge (left). This area of central São Tomé seems to harbor sizable numbers of forest cobras (Naja nigricollis), the islands’ only venomous snake species, thought to have been introduced by early Portuguese settlers. We have extracted DNA from Bode’s skins to test this hypothesis.

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3/4ths of the members of GG IX. Dr. Rayna Bell, UC Berkeley; Lauren Scheinberg, CAS; Maria Jeronimo, Gulbenkian U; and Dr. Luis Mendes, Nat. Hist. Mus., Lisbon. Absent are Roberta Ayres (CAS), Andrew Stanbridge, photographer and me (CAS).

Some more updates from GG IX: Dr. Luis Mendes is completing his monograph on the butterflies of the islands. He informs us that he collected about 400 specimens during GG IX. luis

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His collections represent 40 species of six families from both islands with new records and observations of endemics.

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Jim Shevock (above) of CAS, is a veteran of three past Gulf of Guinea expeditions, and has just published a sixth scientific paper on bryophyte flora of the islands. It is plain that the bryophyte flora of the islands is much more diverse than had been thought and Jim has many more species to be and new ones to describe especially. Jim will be a participant on GG XI in November.

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Dr. Rayna Bell (above left), now of the Smithsonian Institution, continues her work with the treefrog genus Hyperolius. The opportunity arose for us to sample the southern part of the Obo Natural Forest on São Tomé where, it turns out, the giant tree frog (H. thomensis) is much more easily found and observed. There are some intriguing biological issues involving genetic interaction between these two species which are so different in size and color (above right), and Rayna continues her studies of them and the giant tree frog (Leptopelis) of Príncipe.

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Drs Bell and Ricardo Lima in the forest of São Tomé, inland of Angolares.

On the academic side of things, the Island Biology Conference held in July at the University of the Azores on Terciero Island was a great success with over 400 scientists and students in attendance for a week. At the first such meeting held in Hawaii there were only two presentations on Gulf of Guinea science; in the Azores, we had a day-long symposium featuring talks on many aspects of island biogeography and conservation.

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Dr. Bell presents an amphibian paper at the Gulf of Guinea Symposium, Terceiro Island, Azores.

Such meetings facilitate useful interactions between scientists and students, allowing them to avoid overlap of effort and at the same time promoting cooperation; we were very heartened by the increase in the number of people doing research and educational activities on the islands.

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Drs Mariana Carvalho and Ricardo Lima discuss various São Tomé/Principe
projects (above). Both are authorities on forest ecology,  the Gulf of Guinea bird fauna and the interactions of human populations with the environment. After several years of work in Mozambique, Mariana is returning to the islands where she will continue her work under the auspices of Birdlife International. Ricardo was one of the organizers of the symposium.

In several previous blogs I have mentioned Hugulay Maia, a Sao Tomean from the town of Angolares on the southeast coast. We first met Hugulay years ago through his mentor and friend, Angus Gascoigne, an accomplished resident naturalist on São Tomé. Tragically, Angus passed away a few years ago; he would have been very proud to learn that Hugulay  is now pursuing PhD research on the coastal fishes of the islands.

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Hugulay diving on Príncipe, GG.X (left) and preparing specimens (right, with Dr.Ricardo Rocha (CAS), and graduate student,  Luisa Fontoura. (far right, U. Catarina, Brazil).

Maia was a member of the GG X marine team, as was his doctoral advisor, Dr. Sergio Floeter of University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. A few months ago in Lisbon (below), he presented part of his thesis work to the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, one of the major funders of his work on coastal fishes.

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Our next terrestrial expedition, GG XI will be in November and will be the topic of the next blog.

PARTING SHOT.

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Here at Praia Jalé in southeastern São Tomé is a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), one of several species of ocean-going sea turtles that breed on the islands annually. Looking on are our old friends Bastien Loloum, his wife Delicia and kids Flora and David. Bas said: “The nesting turtle got surprised by sunlight and was just finishing up [laying eggs] as we arrived by her side. The picture was taken by a German tourist who was also staying at the lodge that same night.” This is the world’s largest turtle and the 4th heaviest reptile (after 3 monitor lizards). These giants can reach 2.13m (just under 7 feet) with a mass of 650 kg (1433 lbs)!

 

PARTNERS.
The research expeditions are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* On the islands, we are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bonfim, 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”. GG VIII, IX , X and upcoming GG XI have been funded by a 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”, and members of the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of our on-going primary school education program during GG VII and GG VIII.

*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118
USA

 

THE RACE: GG IX – RETURN TO THE BIG ISLAND

The seven members of GG IX all met up in the Lisbon airport on September 18 and arrived the next day in São Tomé. Two new collegues on this expedition are from Portugal. Dr. Luis Mendes, a butterfly expert from the Natural History Museum in Lisbon is finishing a major book on the butterflies of the islands and is checking certain localities for species that have not been seen for many years.

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Maria Adelina Jeronimo, a PhD candidate from the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal, also studies butterflies but specifically the genetics of certain novel morphological characters. Maria is a matter of months from finishing her doctoral dissertation.

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Dr. Rayna Bell has returned for her third trip and is continuing her studies of the interesting hybridization phenomenon that seems to be occurring between the two endemic São Tomé tree frog species, reported in a major publication earlier this year. She has also discovered that the little green tree frogs of Principe, while seemingly nearly identical to those of São Tomé, are in fact a separate species. This does not surprise us really; see earlier blogs on geckos and snakes!

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Rayna is being assisted by our third new member,  Lauren Scheinberg of the Herpetology Department of the California Academy of Sciences.

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Our brilliant (and very tall) photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, has joined us for the fifth time (also as co-leader).

The education team is, as usual, Roberta Ayers and myself, plus our long-time São Toméan colleagues, Roberta dos Santos, Anita Rodriguez and Quintino Quade Cabral. Maria Jeronimo has been assisting. A new cycle begins this year, starting again with third grade.

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There have been several interesting discoveries already. A couple of years ago we published a study of the giant geckos of the islands, describing a new species from Príncipe (Miller, et al, 2012). We suggested that the large endemic species of São Tomé, Hemidactylus greefi, was only found in natural settings, having been out-competed in the towns by common, widespread recent colonizers. During our first week the group found an adult Greef’s gecko at sea level on a door in Angolares, the second largest town on the big island. I suspect that if competition with widespread common immigrants accounts for the absence of this gecko in the capitol city, there must be fewer of the former in Angolares. This is understandable as Angolares is still quite small and is not by any means a port city; that has always been São Tomé city.

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As in every year, we went to the Olea tree at Macambrara (1100 m) to check on the known population of the giant São Tomé tree frog, Hyperolius thomensis. Long-time readers will recall that two holes in this enormous tree are the only place we have consistently found this colorful species. While we have conjectured that the giant tree frog must be widespread in the higher elevation forests (we can hear it call from far above in the canopy), we have been unable to find another locality or tree with appropriate breeding holes… until now!

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With our colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima of University of Lisbon, we were able to gain access to the primary forest above the huge southern oil palm plantation of Agripalma. At 350 m, above an abandoned roça called Monte Carmo, Bell, Scheinberg, Lima and Stanbridge found large numbers of the giant São Tomé tree frog breeding in pockets of water on fallen logs. This southern-most locality indicates, as we suspected, that this flamboyant frog is widespread in the relatively undisturbed forest and that while not restricted to high elevation (Macambrara), it does indeed seem to breed in pockets of water such as tree holes, rather than standing water like its close relative.

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Here, there appears to be no hybridization as the two tree frog species are separated by oil palm rather than less biologically hostile agricultural fields or plots. In fact, so far as I know, hardly any endemic vertebrates or native plants are able to survive in oil palm.

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This area is also the last bastion of a remarkable endemic bird, the Dwarf ibis, the smallest species of ibis in the world; it is severely threatened, both by hunting and by habitat destruction (oil palm). Notably, there are now two charismatic endemic species, a bird and a frog, endangered by human activities on this remote and fascinating island.

So far, this year’s activities have included working in a number of new localities including the central massif and in the far south. High in the mountains above Roça Agua Izé, one of the larger of the coastal colonial cacao plantations, we got our first decent view of a Giant weaver, Ploceus grandis. One of many endemic island giants on São Tomé and Príncipe, this colorful weaver is the largest in the world.

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As always, our educational efforts are aimed at raising the children’s awareness of the unique aspects of the island flora and fauna. We do not preach conservation per se. but rather try to show the young students how special their islands are and thus how special they are as owners.

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This year, each third-grader gets our coloring book about endemic bird species on both islands, a box of colored pencils and a pair of plastic binoculars (which work!!) These are not just handed out…. we present them personally to each student in each classroom, along with enthusiastic instructions for use, and the reasons  we come each year; we involve the students, the teachers, even school principals, and it is great fun. At the end, 10 of our stick-on logo patches are given to the teacher to reward good work. Each of us is involved at one time or another, as voices begin to suffer after 3 or 4 classroom visits.

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At this point, I must mention some wonderful folks who have been vital to the education effort this year: Alice and Wayne Settle conceived of and sponsored the acquisition of the small binoculars; Jim Boyer of the California Academy of Science once again produced a booklet that qualifies as a work of art, and help with producing the bird books is coming from the Príncipe Trust.

In the next blog, I will report on our progress on the smaller geologically ancient island of Príncipe.

Meantime, here’s the parting shot:

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All photos by Andrew Stanbridge

 

 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-VII 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 VIII was 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 support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

The RACE: SIZE MATTERS!

It is a fundamental tenet of the science of island biogeography that more different species of plants and animals will be found on larger islands than on smaller ones. When we say “larger” in this regard, we really mean surface area. Note that in the graphic illustration below right, both islands have the exactly the same circumference, but the lower island has a mountain in the middle of it which markedly increases any measure of its overall surface area.

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RCD construct.

The greater (and more varied) the surface area, the larger the number of niches for living organisms; hence with time and evolution there will be more living plants on animals on larger islands than smaller (above left). For “niches”, think of “jobs”; every living thing has a three-part job: 1. where it does what it does (spatial niche); when it does what it does (temporal niche) and how it gets its energy (trophic niche). No two living things can overlap on all three and coexist, hence size (area) matters! There are other factors of course, such as geological age and island distance from source, that affect the numbers and characteristics of species found on islands.

Our islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are classic examples of the area/species number relationship. Here are just a few examples:

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Begonia thomeana. T. Daniel phot. — GG

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African butterfly. Photo from  ARKives. Google Images

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New tree frog (Hyperolius) species from Principe Id. A. Stanbridge phot– GG VII.

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African dragonfly.  ARKive phot. Google Images.

The island area effect is even more convincing when the entire archipelago of four islands is included, from the largest (Bioko) to the smallest (Annobón).

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 Lacewing distribution in Gulf of Guinea. Dong Lin phot. GG I; RCD construct.

As one can see, there is an obvious correlation between island size and the number of lacewings present; however in this case it is also important to note that while Bioko is clearly the largest island, it is also geologically youngest and closest to the mainland, having been attached to the mainland multiple times during the Pleistocene. Such factors can have an important effect on these comparisons. While these correlations prove correct over and over again. However this does not mean that very small islands cannot house wonderful biological surprises, and we are learning that this is true in the Gulf of Guinea.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot, GG VII

Above is the Jockey’s Bonnet (or Ilha Caroço) so named for its obvious shape. This large rock is only about 3.5 km off the southeast shore of Príncipe, only 35 hectares in area but perhaps 100 m in height. It was undoubtedly once part of the main island, which readers will recall dates back to the Oligocene Epoch, so it is probably quite old geologically.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

Although small, the Jockey’s Bonnet houses at least two very intriguing species. The population of native oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) on the western shores of this tiny island have obviously been there for a long time as they have begun to accumulate change from the parent species on the main Island, but a few km away! While still clearly the same species, the Jockey’s Bonnet palms bear seeds (fruit) that is at least twice the size of the palms on Príncipe and São Tomé.

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Bonnet oil palm seed. RCD phot. CAS botany specimen

For bird lovers, an even more exciting occurrence on the Jockey’s Bonnet is that of the Bonnet Seed-eater, a small brown passerine bird noticeably different from its relatives only a few kilometers away on Príncipe!

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Bonnet seed-eater. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

These unique birds are heavier, have longer, broader bills and shorter wings than their island neighbors and have been shown to be genetically distinct from them. They are extremely common (some 3,500 individuals at last estimate) and live exclusively in the oil palm forest pictured above. They have a specialized diet of palm oil and palm pollen, and it is tempting to speculate that there might be some relationship driving the evolution of the palms and the birds.

Isolation and evolutionary change within a population of birds separated from their nearest relatives by only 3 km may well seem counter-intuitive; after all, don’t birds fly? The answer is yes they do, but they don’t need to, they often don’t, at least not long distances! Flying is energetically expensive; if the habitat is relatively stable, suitable for survival and reproduction, why leave it? In spite of their ability to fly, most bird species tend to remain in specific kinds of habitats and areas. This is called philopatry.

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Tinhosa Grande.  A. Stanbridge phot. VII

Far to the south of Príncipe (ca. 20 km.) is a fascinating group of small islands known as the Tinhosas. The largest of these is Tinhosa grande (above) with a surface area of but 20.5 ha.

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RCD construct

Geologically the Tinhosas are of great interest because they mark the southernmost limit of the Oligocene Príncipe of over 31 million years ago. As we have noted in earlier blogs, Príncipe was once much, much larger but through millions of years of weathering, largely from the southwest, all that remains are the Tinhosas and Príncipe, along with its other islets. And again, Principe is twice as old as São Tomé.

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RCD phots, GG I and II  (right – bridled tern)

The Tinhosas are important rookeries for some sea birds such as Brown and Black Noddys, the Sooty Tern and Brown Booby and are recognized by Birdlife International as Wetlands of International Importance and official Waterfowl Habitat.

Tinhosa Grande is also inhabited by at least two different kinds of lizards, a skink species and a gecko species. These were observed and photographed by members of a recent ornithological expedition but specimens were not collected. Our colleague, Dr. Luis Ceriaco, of the Natural History Museum in Lisbon discovered that some of these skinks had been collected by a Portuguese expedition and deposited in that museum 45 years ago.

CeriacoDr. Luis Ceriaco with Principe giant tree frog..  phot from Facebook.

After analysis, Luis discovered that the Tinhosa Grande specimens represented a new species which he has described as Trachylepis adamastor. It is a very large skink differing from its nearest relatives in size, scales and coloration.

Tinhosas skink 2 (c) Ross Wanless

Tinhosa skink. (Trachylepis). Ross Wanless phot.

Members of the more recent bird expedition reported to Ceriaco that that the population of these skinks seemed very dense, and Ceriaco later speculated that there might be a trophic relationship between the numerous skinks and the nesting birds. Notice above that the skink is feeding on a recently broken egg (this photo appeared in the paper by L. Cericaco). Such relationships are not unknown.

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Cousin Island. Google images; bridled tern RCD image, Cousin habitat RCD image; Mabuya wrighti James Warwick image)

Cousin Island of the Seychelles Archipelago in the Indian Ocean exhibits a strikingly similar situation that has been well-studied. This small island of 27 hectares supports enormous populations of two species of skinks: Mabuya wrighti, which is large, and Mabuya seychellensis, which is smaller. Studies revealed that in 1979 there were approximately 1,713 individual skinks per hectare, and that these were supported directly by nesting terns (60,000 pairs of Lesser Noddy terns alone) through broken eggs, feces and dropped fish. Such a situation may well exist on Tinhosa Grande.

The Tinhosa gecko remains a mystery. We have no examples of it and cannot examine its morphology or molecular relationships.

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Tinhosa gecko. (Hemidactylus sp.) Photos by Nuno Barros, courtesy, Birdlife Int.

The photos are not of sufficient quality to determine whether this gecko is related to one of the unique island species (H. principensis, H. greeffii) or is a more widespread species.

We are preparing for GG IX in September. More anon.

The parting shot:

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A 4th grade Sao Tomean student with our biodiversity playing cards. A. Stanbridge phot. 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-VII 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 VIII was 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 support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

 













The Race: GG VII—We Reunite and Part Again

After two hectic weeks of education activities on São Tomé, Rayna Bell (Cornell University) arrived and the four of us joined the botanists, Tom Daniel, Jim Shevock, Miko Nadel, Tamas Szuts (our spider guy) and Andrew Stanbridge (our photographer) on Príncipe.   I  have asked Andrew, a veteran of three Gulf of Guinea expeditions, to illustrate some of what transpired while the group was divided.

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Our botany team, day one on Principe: Jim Shevock, Tom Daniel and Miko Nadel.

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Botany team en route to climb the mesa. Back left in the yellow hat is our guide Baloo.

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Jim on the “trail” to the mesa.

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Male Leptopelis palmatus found on the trail to the mesa. The females are the largest tree frogs in Africa.

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Tom discovers Principina, a unique sedge.

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Miko on top of the mesa

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Jim and Tom collecting specimens along the route to Roça Sundy.

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First Academy visit to the offshore island “Jockey’s Bonnet”.

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Bonnet seedeater, unique to the small island of “Jockey’s Bonnet”.

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Tom carrying specimens upriver.

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Tamas and “Bobby” Bronkhurst pooting spiders on Jockey’s Bonnet.   Here is the parting shot.

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  All images by Andrew Stanbridge 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”