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

 

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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: 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

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: The Blog Returns with a Science Update

“The Race” has been silent for a while; a sabbatical accompanied by computer glitches at both sites (Wildlifedirect.org; calacademy.org) led to it, but this was not meant to signal a pause in our island work by any means! We will be returning to the islands for two more expeditions later this year.

During the past nine months or so, some important scientific papers have been published by expedition members; these continue to illustrate the unique nature of the island fauna and flora.

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Ricka Stoelting (D. Lin phot, GGI)

Ricka Stoelting was on the islands for a solid two months during GG I in 2001. The research she did on the unique Sâo Tomé caecilian was the basis for her MSc degree, and this has just been published; this paper is the first on the population genetics of a caecilian species,  and she has shed light on a number of issues involving this strange Sâo Tomé endemic.

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(left) Cobra bobo, Schistometopum thomense (A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII); (right) from Stoelting, et al., 2014, PLoS One.

Ricka discovered that there are four distinct populations of the cobra bobo that are genetically different from each other – not different enough to be considered separate species, but different enough to suggest that these populations were isolated from each other in the distant past (recall that evolution is genetic change accumulated in isolation over time). She also found that these different populations were probably separated from each other through major geological changes in the environment. Note (above right) that the western populations (green) and northern populations (red) are associated with volcanic landscapes less than 1 million years old, while the southern populations (blue) are associated with older volcanic soils of about 2.5 million years in age. This suggests that the formerly widespread caecilian species was wiped out to the north by volcanism about 1 million years ago, then later repopulated from the surviving southern population. The yellow population is very young, perhaps only about 36 thousand years. Currently Ricka is pursuing a PhD at the University of Wisconsin.

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Dr. Ricardo Lima with caecilian, Schistometopum thomense. (R. Ayres phot. GG. IV)

While on the subject of the endemic Sâo Tomé caecilian, I can report that our colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima (above), just found three  caecilians while climbing the Pico de Sâo Tomé, and one of these establishes an altitude record for this strange worm-like amphibian species at 1504 meters (4,600+ feet).

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Dr. Rayna Bell on Sao Tome.  (A. Stanbridge phot, GG VI)

Last September, Rayna Bell, a participant on both GG VI and GG VII expeditions, completed her PhD degree at Cornell University; her doctorate was based on her work on the Hyperolius tree frogs of the islands, and the first part of it has just been published.

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(left) after Bell, R.C. et al. 2014. Journal of Biogeography. (right). Nearest mainland relative of island Hyperolius tree frogs. (RDC phot)

We knew from earlier work that the two tree frogs of Sâo Tomé were each other’s nearest relatives.  But where did they come from originally?  Dr. Bell’s research indicates that the nearest relative of both the endemic oceanic treefrog and the Sâo Tomé Giant treefrog is a member of a large group of species in West Africa, Hyperolius cinnamomeoventris (above right); in particular, a subset of this group she terms “clade A,” (indicated by green stars above left) appears to share joint ancestry with the island species.

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Hypothesized large “riverbank” raft.  (artwork by R.E.Cook)

Her research suggests that the common ancestor of the island treefrogs reached Sâo Tomé first, in a single colonization event, probably by rafting (above). This event likely occurred between 9 and 3.5 million years ago, and the original colonists probably originated from the Ogooué or Congo Rivers. On Sâo Tomé, these original “pioneers” differentiated into a giant highland form (now H. thomensis) and a smaller lowland species. Then, between 1.1 million and 270 thousand years ago, members of the lower elevation species, the oceanic treefrog, Hyperolius molleri dispersed to the much older island of Príncipe, where they again became isolated from the parent population on Sâo Tomé and began to accumulate genetic change (“speciation”). A second scientific paper by Dr. Bell on these species and their evolution on the Gulf of Guinea Islands is due out soon.

The status of the Sâo Tomé shrew (Crocidura thomensis) has been somewhat problematic, for scientists at least. Shrews are very poor overwater dispersers, and since it is possible for the shrew to have been transported from the mainland by man fairly recently, there have been questions about its validity as a true endemic species. Did it reach Sâo Tomé by natural means?  This strange insectivore was recorded only nine times after its original description in 1887 and until recently, it has also been considered quite rare. (Someone should have asked the locals!)

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The Sâo Tomé  shrew (phot. Dr. Mariana Carvalho).  (left) Dr. Ricardo F. de Lima.

In a recent publication, (below) our colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima has added twenty-three new locality records for this fascinating creature, indicating that it is not rare. It has just been overlooked. An excellent ecologist, de Lima has assessed the conservation status of this important species.  Moreover, he and his colleagues have provided tissue so that we have been able to examine its DNA to determine whether or not it arrived on the island by natural means or was more recently brought by man. It appears to be a true endemic species (to be reported in a future publication), and as such it is the only non-flying endemic mammal species on the island of Sâo Tomé.

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From de Lima, R.F., et al]. 2015 Fauna & Flora International. Oryx. Grey dots denote localities known in 1996. Black dots are new localities.

During GG II (2006), we collected two shrew new-borns on the island of Príncipe which at the time we assumed were a mainland species, Crocidura poensis. Dr. Luis Ceriaco, who is now an adjunct member of our CAS faculty, subsequently obtained many more adult individuals on the island (it is much more common than C. thomensis) and surprisingly this species is also new and endemic.

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From Ceriaco, et al. 2015. Mammalia

Dr. Ceriaco has just formally described it as Crocidura fingui, its name in the local Creole. So the only non-flying endemic mammals in the Republic of Sâo Tomé and Príncipe are shrews! I do not think any biogeographer would have predicted this (see August 2010 blog: the “Magic of Molecules).

Here’s the parting shot:

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Rotula deciesdigitatus, one of the rarest sand dollars in the world; in the islands, known principally from Praia Morrao, west coast of Sao Tome. (Weckerphoto, GG III)
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: On Rocket Frogs and Millipedes

First, some great news on the academic front.  One of the graduate student participants on GGI back in 2001 just completed his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Meet Dr. Joel Ledford, newly-minted world authority on spiders and explorer of Gulf of Guinea biodiversity.  In the picture below, he is holding “bubba,” one of the three endemic tarantula species of São Tomé.

DR. Joel Ledford with Hysterocrates apostolicus.   D. Lin phot. GGI

Readers of this blog already know that when we talk about biodiversity, we are talking about everything living, not just the big fancy stuff like birds and giant begonias.  Many of the secrets of island evolution are to be unlocked through the study of small organisms.   I have just received some preliminary news from Dr. Didier Van den Speigel of the Royal Central African Museum in Belgium.  After Dr. Rowland Shelley of the North Carolina State Museum did a preliminary analysis of our GG IV millipede specimens, we sent them to Didier, a specialist on this group in the Old World.  Rowland had concluded that we had at least one new species of the genus Globanus from each island.

A millipede (not Globanus) phot.  from cephalopodiatrist.com

Didier has examined material from other museums and has concluded that, in fact, the genus Globanus itself is endemic, found nowhere else in the world but the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe.  We are still unsure of how many species our GG IV material represents, but what seems evident at this time is that they are all each other’s closest relatives.  Drs Van den Speigel and Shelley are in agreement that this turns out to be the case, it would represent a “species swarm,” much like the endemic earthworms of São Tomé (see July 2010 blog “Nightmares….”, for an explanation).  The work continues……

In my memorial to Abade last month, I described one of our early unsuccessful  searches for Newton’s rocket frog during GG I.

Newton’s rocket frog, Ptychadena newtoni.  D. Lin phot.  GGI

This widely distributed genus of about 50 species is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and distinguished by a sharp snout, paired vocal sacs (lower arrow),  distinctive glandular ridges on the back (upper arrow) and very long legs.  In fact a member of this group from South Africa holds the world record frog jump of over 33 feet (10m)!  P. newtoni is one of São Tomé’s classic “island giants; at 76 mm (not including legs) a  São Tomé female is much larger than any specimens of mainland species on record.

After days of visiting known localities mostly in and near the town of São Tomé and finding them dry, heavily disturbed and frogless, one rainy evening two young boys led us to a vacant lot less than 200m from where we were living, and there were the frogs!   Ultimately, genetic analysis of these frogs established that they were, indeed, full endemic species, but also led John Measey, currently of South Africa, and a group of us to publish our rafting hypothesis in the Journal of Biogeography (2007 – see earlier blogs).

Our difficulty in finding this species in the northern lowlands of São Tomé (all of the known localities at the time) suggested to me that this may be the only endemic amphibian species on São Tomé that might be endangered due to human development.

Series of Ptychadena newtoni larvae from Java, Sao Tome.  RCD phot. GG II

However, during GG II we found a series of tadpoles at Java (elevation 595m) which we later determined belonged to this species (although no adults were seen).  Tadpoles are typically identified by various external characteristics, but especially by fine structures of the mouthparts. The drawings below are taken from a nearly completed manuscript that attempts to technically describe the tadpoles (larvae) of all the endemic island frog species; it has not been published because, even after all these years, we have still not found the larvae of the Príncipe giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus!

P. newtoni mouthparts from unpublished manuscript.

P. newtoni left lateral view from unpublished manuscript.

Our discovery of the Java larvae indicated that Newton’s rocket frog is not necessarily present only in the heavily developed northern lowlands.

Recently, a young biologist, Hugulay Maia, whom we first met during GG IV has found some new P. newtoni localities.

Hugulay Maia of ABS, doing tree work.  unknown photographer]

Hugulay is a member of Associação dos Biologos (ABS), a local group of biologists involved in biodiversity efforts on São Tomé. The group is led by Dr. Alzira Rodrigues of the Polytechnic Institute; other members you have met in this blog are Angus Gascoigne and Victor Bomfim.

Current P. newtoni localities: green = to 1992; pink = to date

Now, thanks to Hugulay’s observations (and photographs) we have a somewhat better idea of the distribution of Newton’s rocket frog.  Earlier known localities are in green and were published by a Swiss worker in 1992; our GG II Java locality and Hugulay’s new localities are in pink.  Hugulay’s data confirm that the species is not confined to the north.  He has observed it at Colonia Açoreana (labeled) and two more southerly spots, Angra Toldo Cavaleite and Roça Alinhança.

The data are still thin, but we can at least infer that Ptychadena newtoni is more widespread than originally thought.  Almost all of the mainland species breed in relatively still or slow-moving water, and it is reasonable to assume this is the case with Newton’s rocket frog.  All of the old localities (in green) are associated with lowland reaches of major water courses: the city localities are in the Agua Grande drainage; Hugulay Maia’s new records are all from the Ribeira Afonsa drainage, and the Diogo Vaz locality (green symbol in the NW) is from the small Agua Anambo, which parallels the larger, much faster Rio Maria Luiza to south.  Java our highest locality is on the Rio Abade, but the tadpoles were collected in a man-made pool in a roadside, partially dry creek bed, not in the river itself.   To assess the actual status of Newton’s rocket frog, I think we just need to look more closely in bodies of slow or still water along major rivers throughout the island.

The Parting Shot:

Dr. Joel Ledford: Spider hunters in repose. D. Lin phot.   GG I

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, 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 for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.