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.

Ayers, Nova Moca GG IV

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: Fiat Lux

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Andrew Stanbridge, our photographer, receiving welcome local support; Príncipe Id, 2013 (all photos by Andrew unless otherwise indicated)

Readers will know that our primary focus from the beginning has been to discover and describe the biological wonders of these two islands in the Gulf of Guinea.  So far we have done pretty well on the scientific side of things, publishing 35 peer- reviewed, scientific papers, participating in international symposia on the biodiversity and island science and, among us delivering numerous presentations and posters at other scientific meetings via various media such as film, radio and video around the world. While in the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe we give illustrated talks to tourists at lodges, on local television and to advanced students at the polytechnic; even to friends in the government. But what about the majority of citizens of the islands themselves?  To be honest, they are no more aware of science nor of their unique environmental heritage than the majority of people in our own countries in Europe and the New World are aware of theirs.

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Youngster at Nova Moca, Sao Tome

Some six years ago, I was pondering how to involve the island people in the unique biological nature of their island home when I remembered something from my own youth: I happened to be young at the time one of the most successful food franchises in modern history caught fire in America: McDonald’s hamburgers!!

In the early sixties McDonald’s hamburgers were marketed heavily to young children, not to adults  Early Saturday mornings televisions  were beset with cartoon shows and other youth programs which entertained kids and allowed parents a little more time to sleep. There, the McDonald’s ads featured a clown (Ronald McDonald), lots of young kids and the memorable logo, the Golden Arches (below), which still endures today!  Youthful viewers were urged to convince their parents to take them to McDonalds….and the rest is history!

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A survey of the overall primary school curriculum by Roberta Ayres, MSc, coordinator and co-founder of our education project, revealed that the kids were mostly learning about European farm animals, rather than the unique island  species all around them!.  So in 2012, we and our local island colleagues inaugurated the education program focusing on youngsters, and this continues today..  We initially chose about  thirty geographically disparate primary schools (below) on both islands as our targets. We visit the same kids for three years in a row in these schools; i.e. we see the same group of classmates when they are in the third grade, then the fourth and finally fifth grades. After three years, we start over with the third grade.

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Third grade in primary school. Velma Schnoll, early participant from CAS in the background.

Each year our committee (below) meets to decide upon and produce the educational materials to bring to the schools.

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Education Team: Roberta Ayres, Sean Edgerton, Dr, Tom Daniel, Wayne and Alice Settle. Absent: Mike Murakami, Jim Boyer and Bob Drewes.

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These materials have ranged from simple colorful posters to decks of playing cards featuring endemic species (above). Last year (Gulf of Guinea IX), each child received a bird booklet and a pair of plastic binoculars (below).

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Quintino Quade (STeP UP) assisting with newly bestowed binoculars.

This year for GG XI, we are departing slightly from our emphasis on unique endemic species, and instead celebrating the special nature of the coastal waters, from which the islanders acquire the vast majority of their protein. There are, of course, plenty of endemic marine species in the waters of São Tomé and Príncipe as well.

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First, we are bringing brightly-colored posters of coastal species we have collected and identified for broad distribution (above).  In the classrooms, each fourth grader will receive a booklets describing these habitats (in Portuguese) and magnifiers. (below).

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This year our chief designer has  brought more images of people into the material, rather than emphasizing the plant and animal species alone.  The sketches above are preliminaries by our layout artist, Jim Boyer, later incorporated into the booklet, showing children using the magnifiers they will receive.

It is important to know that the children and teachers in each class are not just handed the materials.. Each classroom visit involves a small presentation (always involving the teacher and one or two students of his or her choice) showing how to use the materials; this presentation remains unchanged throughout the season and all members of team are involved.

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Anita Rodrigues (STeP Up) and Dr. Maria Jeronimo preparing materials for school visit

Our island partners, Quintino Quade, Anita Rodriques and Roberta dos Santos of STeP UP, notify all of the teachers and administrators in advance of our visits; Quintino and Roberta are themselves teachers and know almost everyone involved in education in the islands.

We are frequently aided by travelers we meet while on the islands and it is amazing how much fun everyone has.

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Signe Mikulane,  a  PhD  candidate volunteer  from the University of Heidleberg with Quintino Quade of STeP Up

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Maria and Anita in a classroom.

There are two important cornerstones to our project: 1. Every student gets a copy of thematerials we bring; no one is ever left out, and 2, we never preach.  Our message is always the same; “these islands are special, there are plants and animals here that are found nowhere else in the world. They belong to you, and nobody else. Be proud of them.”. Our goal is to impart a feeling of ownership and pride in their environment, without dictating how to manage these precious resources.

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Since our first work in the schools in 2012 we have personally reached about 2,000 children per year.  This part of the Gulf of Guinea project is a great joy (see below),  and I hope some years from now that one or two of these kids might be instrumental in finding a useful way preserving some of the uniqueness that we scientists have had such pleasure in discovering.

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Velma Schnoll greets arriving Roberta Ayres in the Sao Tome  airport – and another season begins

My next posting will be from the islands; in the meantime, here’s the parting shot:

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This is a sticker and our project logo. Each teacher is given 10 each year to award to students for good work.  We return each year to see these proudly worn on school uniforms.

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, Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment of the 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”. The upcoming GG 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 (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging, and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of our ongoing primary school education program.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Race: “Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends…” – (the troops)

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Ghosts of Past Bondage and Present Beauty (unless otherwise indicated, images by our photographer, A. Stanbridge.)

Our next expedition, GG XI, departs in November. Since returning from GG IX last year, we have been involved in two subsequent expeditions: that of graduate student Matthias Neumann (University of Kassel) whose work on island flatworms we are supporting, and GG X, our second marine expedition led by Dr. Luiz Rocha, of the Academy. As a result, GG IX has perhaps received less “blog attention” than usual, so I am including a few more images below.

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Upon arrival on Príncipe Island, we always pay our respects to President Jose “Tose” Cassandra, in order to inform him of our intentions. He has been a strong supporter of our scientific and educational work on the island since early days; as can be readily seen, a visit to his office is always a pleasure. To my left is Dr. Maria Jeronimo, Portuguese entomologist.

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Above, the team is hiking up to the rim of Lagoa Amelia, a crater lake on São Tomé at over 1400 meters. The giant bamboo is  an invasive or it was introduced for some reason; it is not native to the islands. One of the major joys of being a field biologist is that one often finds oneself working in wonderfully beautiful places like these.

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Kids watching a video of themselves dancing in an abandoned roça (plantation house).

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At about 700 m in elevation in the Contador Valley on the northwest side of São Tomé, there is a kilometer-long tunnel/aqueduct that is a great locality for bats, amblypygids,  geckos(below), and other normally night-time critters of interest. The team in route to the tunnel: Dr Luis Mendes, Dr Rayna Bell, Lauren Scheinberg, Drewes, Dr Maria Jeronimo and K. B. Lim.

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Lauren Scheinberg and Rayna Bell in the tunnels.

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Drewes, Quintino Quade and K. B. Lim in the tunnels.

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The giant, four-fingered gecko of Sao Tome, Hemidactylus greefi.

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The tunnel entrance is behind us; we are examining specimens just collected . To the left is Scheinberg, Drewes, K.B.Lim, manager of the local power plant, Dr. Luis Mendes (foreground) and Quintino Quade.

The water of the Rio Contador is eventually directed to the country’s only brewery,  far below in the town of Neves. Here ROSEMA, the local beer, is produced; we feel this is a noble enterprise and support it frequently and enthusiastically.

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Dr. Luis Mendes with Quintino Quade on the hunt.

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The prey: a silverfish, one of Luis’s academic specialties.

Below, Dr. Rayna Bell of the Smithsonian Institution with a São Tomé giant treefrog, Hyperolius thomensis. Rayna has been studying the genetics and evolution of the unique tree frogs of the islands for a number of years.

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Above, three members of the team work an unnamed waterfall on the west side of Príncipe Island; from left to right: Dr. Maria Jeronimo, Rayna and Lauren Scheinberg. Shortly after this image was taken, Rayna Bell collected a large female Príncipe giant tree frog (Leptopelis palmatus).

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Not only is it rare to find such an animal during daylight hours, this is also the only all-black African tree frog specimen I have ever seen in a lifetime of studying them. Tree frogs always protect their under surfaces against water loss by evaporation; thus the frog is perched (above) on the largest smooth surface available nearby- our indomitable photographer, Andrew Stanbridge.

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Andrew is the veteran of six expeditions and has provided us with invaluable photographic documentation of our past six years of fieldwork.

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Drs Jeronimo and Luis Mendes, our GG IX entomologists, examine the latest butterfly capture (above) and below, Roberta Ayres, coordinator of all of our education efforts examines the oddest vertebrate on São Tomé, the unique legless amphibian or caecilian (Schistometopum thomense) known to the locals as “Cobra bobo” and greatly feared as well. Its nearest relative is found thousands of kilometers to the East in Tanzania and Kenya. Caecilians are harmless.

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Roberta Ayres  near São Nicolao, São Tomé.

The eleventh expedition will run from mid-November to mid-December and will include nine scientists, two of them new to the project.
Our botanists, Drs Tom Daniel and Jim Shevock, will be joined for the first time by Dr. César Garcia (below left) of the University of Lisbon, Museum of Natural History.  César is  a bryophyte specialist who has already worked and published with shevock; together they will continue to survey the moss, liverwort and hornwort flora of the islands. This year the botanists will again attempt a survey of the remote Pico Mesa on Principe.

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Dr. Lauren Esposito (above, right, with an American crocodile in hand – Crocodylus acutus) is a new member of the faculty of CAS and a specialist on arachnoids. She and returning entomologist Maria Jeronimo will continue with our ongoing broad survey of the insect faunas of the islands. Roberta Ayres, our education head, Rayna Bell, Andrew and I round out the members of GG XI. While on Príncipe we will hopefully be joined in the field by Felipe Spina a bee biologist with the Príncipe Trust.
Each year, we look forward to seeing our local collaborators and friends such as Quintino Quade, his wife Anita Rodrigues and Roberta dos Santos all from the NGO STeP UP, Arlindo Carvalho of the Ministry of the Environment, our “friend on the mountain,” Henrique Pinto da Costa and many, many others.

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We are very fortunate to have the support of both the Omali Boutique Hotel on São Tomé and Roca Belo Monte on Príncipe (above left and right respectively) who provide us with logistical support during our expeditions; this has been vital to the success of our Gulf of Guinea projects over the years.
Here’s the parting shot:

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Storm brewing on the southeast coast near Rebeira  Peixe, Sao Tome.

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, Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment of the 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”. The upcoming GG 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 (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging, and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of our ongoing primary school education program.

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

 

THE RACE: As the (Flat)worm Turns

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Dr. Tom Daniel, senior botanist, demonstrating impressive intrepidity in a Sao Tome river. GG VII A.  Stanbridge phot.

In the earliest blogs we discussed how islands are ideal for studying certain evolutionary processes and patterns; some of these phenomena like gigantism and dwarfism (below) are actually characteristic of islands. And, the results of these processes are much easier to see on islands because of their smaller size (versus, say, continents) and the smaller size of the plant and animal populations that inhabit them.

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Worlds largest (left, Sao Tome) and smallest (right, Principe) Begonia. (RCD construct).

Invasive species are organisms that somehow become accidentally established in areas where they did not exist before; they can be hugely damaging to ecosystems especially on islands, that are made up of plant and animal species that have co-evolved in isolation over perhaps millions of years. In the absence of natural predators (checks and balances), invader populations can become numerous and spread rapidly, and this can have a devastating effect by exhausting the resources these species utilize in the local environment. Invasive animal species populations can burgeon hugely, and then frequently die off; by then, the damage is usually done.

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(Phot. Miko Nadel, GG VII)

A few years ago, we received a photo of a brightly colored worm-like creature on São Tomé (above), taken by one of our graduate students, Miko Nadel, a lichenologist from San Francisco State University. This striped creature turned out to be a terrestrial flatworm, a member of a primitive phylum of invertebrates called the platyhelminthes. Those of us lucky enough to study biology backwhen students were given actual organisms to observe rather than plastic models or video clips will remember “planarians,” aquatic flatworms (below) noted for their amazing ability to regenerate.

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Planarian (Dugesia) . Stock photo, Google photos.

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Flatworm regeneration. (Univ. Heidelberg photo.

Terrestrial flatworms, also known as geoplanids have no anatomical or physiological mechanisms for retaining water and are thus very much tied to moist environments. They are voracious predators upon other soil invertebrates such as earthworms, slugs and, most importantly for us, snails. Geoplanids secrete a mucus that begins to digest and dissolve their prey externally (below), and all geoplanid species known feed using an extendable digestive tube or pharynx.

new geoattackGeoplanid attacking a snail. (R. Lima, phots)

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As above, at Macambrara, Sao Tome. [Phot S. Mikulane]

Once aware of these, we began to notice more of them as did our ecologist colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima, and we all became rather concerned. Why? Readers may recall that about half to 60% of all of the species of terrestrial mollusks (snails) of both São Tomé and Príncipe are endemic; i.e., they are found nowhere else in the world.

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[RCD construct-multiple photographers]

In fact, these snails have been isolated on the island and evolving for such a long period that scientists currently recognize six different genera and a unique snail family there! Given what we know about invasive species, if these geoplanids are indeed a new arrival then the unique snail fauna of the islands may well be in significant danger.

 

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Another geoplanid [phot. F. Azevedo]
In 2012, we sent the original specimen to Dr. Ronald Sluys of Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in Leiden, Holland, one of the few specialists on flatworms. In the meantime, Dr. Ricardo Lima (below) has been conducting ecological research on the São Tomé forests for several years and has been able to collect many more geoplanids and send them to Dr. Sluys.

When the GG IX team visited Dr. Lima at Monte Café, São Tomé last year, he showed us pictures of a number of very different looking morphs of flatworms that he had collected and sent to Dr. Sluys. Were these different species or just variations on one or two species (morphs)?

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Various geoplanids from Sao Tome [phots R. Lima, F. Azevedo, M. Nadel, R. Rocha]

Ron Sluys has been supervising a graduate student from the University of Kassel, Germany who is doing his MSc degree based on this material. His name is Matthias Neumann and as I write, he is on the island of São Tomé with Dr. Lima, studying the flat worms in situ and collecting more! We were able to fund his expedition with the Academy’s Gulf of Guinea Fund (see “Partners”, below).

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Matthias Neumann and partner in the bush on Sao Tome. [R. Lima phot]
Matthias’ preliminary work suggests that there are indeed a number of species of geoplanids on the island: at least five new, undescribed species of the genus Othelosoma, and another previously known species, Bipalium kewense. B. kewense is an extremely widespread species, presumably carried about in the roots of plants; evidently it preys on earthworms rather than snails.

So far, little is known of these strange creatures. Neumann says that at least two of the undescribed species of Othelosoma are snail predators but even so, the presence of a number of species on the island rather than one dominant, rapidly spreading one might be taken as somewhat reassuring. If there are a number of closely related members of the same flatworm genus, it is more likely that the common ancestor of these species arrived a long time ago, speciated, and thus co-evolved with the endemic snail fauna. If this is so, than we would expect an ecological predator/prey balance in this system. If the flatworm fauna is in fact a radiation from a given colonizer, then it would mirror the status of the earthworm fauna as we understand it (below). So far, we are uncertain whether geoplanids are present on Príncipe.

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We are in the planning stages for GG XI; see the next blog.

The Parting Shot:

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A local teacher assists us in a binoculars demonstration on Sao Tome, GG IX. Dr. Luis Mendes in background.  [phot. A. Stanbridge]

Partners:

The research expeditions and the primary school education program are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* We are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. 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 for partially sponsoring our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

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

 

 

THE RACE: Homage to “The Prince”

The island of Príncipe is ancient… at 31 million years of age it is twice as old as São Tomé, yet biologically the two islands are unquestionably related. Along with documenting and describing hitherto unknown species of strange, endemic plants and animals that inhabit one or the other island (rarely, both), we attempt to understand the relationships of these species to each other and to their ancestral populations from the African mainland.

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For instance among the striking Príncipe uniques is Leptopelis palmatus, the Príncipe giant tree frog (above). Females of this species attain dimensions such that they are largest tree frog in Africa! Males, first described by us, are usually less than half their length. The original specimen upon which the species description was based over a century ago was a single female of 110mm body length (excluding legs). Like all female frogs, they do not have an advertisement call and despite their great size, very few have been found and reported in the scientific literature.

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(male)

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(female)

A few days ago, Dr. Rayna Bell found the large female pictured above, pressed to the surface of a small flat rock on the ground on a steep, dryish slope in the northwestern part of the island. Females tend to be dark compared to males, but this is the first all-black specimen reported. There are three other tree frog species on the islands, but they are all closely related to each other and belong to a different frog family from the Príncipe giant.

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Dr Bell has shown that these other three are most closely related to a species from the Ogooué and Congo River basins and thus likely of western Central African origin. Other work has shown that the nearest relative of Leptopelis palmatus of Príncipe is from west of the Niger River and thus the giant is  probably of northern (West African) origin, perhaps dispersing from the Niger River drainage..

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Dr. Luis Mendes and Maria Jeronimo have continued to collect butterflies to fill in knowledge gaps with species for Luis’s book. Luis has collected a number of specimens that he cannot readily identify; on these poorly-known islands, this is particularly exciting.

Maria has actually been doing a lot of everything: collecting butterflies with Luis, joining us in the classrooms and going out at night collecting with Dr. Rayna Bell, Lauren Scheinberg and our photographer, Andrew Stanbridge. Considering that this is a “break” from her PhD dissertation work, her energy level is truly impressive.

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Most geckos are nocturnal but the genus Lygodactylus is comprised of strictly daytime species in Africa and Madagascar. Readers may recall that the islands of Annobon, São Tomé and Príncipe are each inhabited by a single endemic species usually distinguishable by different black markings under the chin; other than these markings, the island species are usually a combination of grey and black. Luis Mendes captured an adult male on Príncipe that appears to be in breeding coloration of a sort I have not seen before in this genus. There is one species endemic to a small forest in Tanzania that is a beautiful blue, several others in East Africa that have yellow heads, and one species in Zambia that has a yellow belly. The male collected on Principe has a bright yellow head and the body that is a striking shade of light green. Not only is this the first time I have observed a green individual, I am also unaware of any literature describing temporary (usually hormonal) color intensities associated with breeding activities in this group of lizards.

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Many of the photos we post on social media might well suggest that our work is being carried out in some sort of paradise; in some ways it is exactly that but is by no means easy!

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The work we do here is only possible with the support of local entities; this is especially true on Príncipe. On our first two expeditions years ago we had difficulty finding suitable accommodations (reliable power for our equipment, etc) and logistics; there were not many available vehicles on the island, and we had little access to the really interesting higher elevation areas of the island or more remote southern areas. Since that time, our efficiency has increased hugely due to the generous support of several organizations on the old island. First and foremost is the Office of the Regional President (Tose Cassandra-he is also head of the recently created Principe World Biosphere Reserve, and also Daniel Ramos, head of the Príncipe Obo Natural Park.

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For a number of years, we have been able to stay at Bom Bom Island resort which has also helped with needed transportation, both vehicular and marine. This year we were invited to stay at the new Roça Belo Monte (Africa’s Eden) who also provided transportation and assistance. At one point we planned a boat trip to explore the remote southeastern part of the island but the skipper, Bobby Bronkhorst, of Makaira Lodge fell ill.

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Our work is now also in cooperation with the newly formed Príncipe Trust; the Trust played a major supporting role in the production of this year’s biodiversity bird field guide/coloring book and binoculars! Our biodiversity education efforts were concluded for Gulf of Guinea IX here on the old island with our return to the 3rd grade classes of the same schools we have been visiting since 2011. Usually after class visits, we see 3rd graders out in the bush peering through their new binoculars but frequently backwards! This may well be more fun for them.

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Parting Shot:
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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