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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(M. Neumann phot)

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

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

 

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

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

The Parting Shot:

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

THE RACE: Our Botanists “Run The Table”

THE RACE: Our Botanists “Run The Table”

Gulf of Guinea Expedition XI is now at the  midpoint. When we arrived two weeks ago, one team stayed on the big island while our botany group proceeded almost immediately to Principe, the smaller and most ancient in the archipelago (31 myr). Two of the botanist only had a couple of weeks, and the team was entering highly inaccessible parts of the southern half of the island for the first time.  The title of this blog refers to Pico Mesa (table), the most arduous and final botany destination of GG XI.

I have decided to construct this blog report as a series of Andrew Stanbridge’s magnificent photos  made during  expeditions into four rather remote parts of Principe Island. The botanists were introduced in an earlier blog.

I.  Day hike into Morro De Leste in the Obo National Park.  A relatively easy access point into  primary forest in the northwest corner of the island.

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Jim Shevock (California Academy of Sciences)

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Dr. Tom Daniel (California Academy of Sciences)

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II. Praia Seca to Rio Porco. A beach on the extreme south coast of Principe and hike to the ridge overlooking the Rio Porco (overnight).  There are no roads here, and the southern reaches of the island must be accessed by boat.  The botanists joined a group  researchers and trainees from the Principe Trust that was searching for individuals of the recently discovered Principe scops owl and teaching forest mapping techniques to local participants.

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Traveling down the east side of the island in a boat from Belo Monte.

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Dr. Cesar Garcia of the University of Lisbon.  Cesar is a specialist in bryophytes: mosses, liverworts and hornworts, as is Jim Shevock of CAS.

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III.  A day expedition on the north coast-Military Caverns to Praia Banana

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The field team. left to right: Balo (head guide), Dr. Tom Daniel, monkey hunters, Drs James Shevock and Cesar Garcia. Photographer Andrew Stanbridge not pictured.

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IV. Assault on Pico Mesa

Route from Roca Belo Monte in the north, south to Pico Mesa by boat.

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Pico Mesa. below, route from Rio Sao Tome to the mesa and back (overnight).

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Below: “The Father” one of the many ancient phonolite peaks on Principe.

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Above: An exhausted Dr. Cesar Garcia after reaching the summit of the mesa.

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Below: Dr. Shevock in a forest of endemic screwpines (Pandanus sp.)

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Below: Balo demonstrates how to stay hydrated using the jungle’s resources

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Below: Dr. Shevock collects his 50,000th career sample!

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Return to Belo Monte (above); below, Cesar sorting out the bryophyte collections.

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Some flowers found along the way

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All of the botanists  returned home at time of writing.   The next posting will be on the various activities of the remaining six expedition members.

PARTING SHOT:

blog-46-of-46Straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum)  Photo: Cesar Garcia

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: 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: 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: GG X – “I Came for the Waters”

No apologies for the Casablanca reference!

Members of Gulf of Guinea X, our third marine expedition, have recently returned from scuba-sampling the inshore waters of Príncipe. The expedition was led by Dr. Luiz Rocha, chair of our Ichthyology Department and his colleague, Dr. Sergio Floeter, of the University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. The group consisted of seven divers including a São Tomean graduate student, Hugulay Maia; the team operated out of Roça Belo Monte, courtesy of Africa’s Eden, and used the dive boat of Makaira Lodge with our old friend Bobby Bronkhorst as skipper.

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GG X team: (above, l to r) L. Fontoura,, R. Morais, Dr. Luz Rocha (leader), J. Gasparini, Dr. Cadu, H. Maia, Dr. S. Floeter. (below) Hugulay Maia earned SCUBA certification on this research trip.

The marine component is particularly important to our understanding of the scope of the biodiversity of the Gulf of Guinea Islands. Readers will recall that Príncipe is geologically the oldest island of the archipelago, originally rising from the ocean floor in the Oligocene, some 31 million years ago.

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The early margins of the island (above),  now weathered to 100m below sea level, are very old habitats. We can expect this region to have unique (endemic) species because as we know that species in isolation change over time; evolution occurs in marine habitats just as it does in terrestrial environments. Most of the specimens and tissues are yet to be analyzed but there are some early exciting discoveries:

Clepticus africanus endemic
Clepticus africanus,  an endemic damselfish known only from the  Gulf of Guinea Islands, from Sao Tome to Annobon.

Corcyrogobius lubbocki type series only
Lubbock’s goby, Corcyrogobius lubbocki: These are the second living specimens encountered in Principe since the species was orginally described in 1988. Previously, the species was known only from Ghana, and Annobon, the southernmost island in the archipelago.

Sparisoma choati also on P type Neds dock Sparisoma choati, Tomio’s parrotfish.

In the October 2011 blog I reported that a new species of parrotfish (above) was being described from a specimen caught on rod and reel by Dr. Tomio Iwamoto (CAS) from the pier of our friend Ned Seligman, in São Tomé during GG II (below). It is not everyday that a new species is caught from an old friend’s dock!!  The GG X team just collected the first Príncipe specimens since then (above) and as you can see, they are quite different in coloration from the original specimen from the big island.

Sao Tome, 2008

Type locality of Tomio’s parrotfish, Ned Seligman’s dock, Praia Francesa, Sao Tome.

While in the field, Dr. Rocha wrote:

“We are surprised to see such clear signs of overfishing in an island with only ~7,000 inhabitants. We saw no sharks, and the few large fish were very scared, a tell tale of spearfishing.
Part of Hugulay and Renato’s work is to interview local fishermen and try to get more clues of how bad overfishing is here. And their interviews reveal a problem that was even bigger than we thought: there are reports of dynamite fishing!”

https://www.calacademy.org/blogs/gulf-of-guinea-expeditions/where-are-the-fishes-0

In earlier blogs, I have included quite a few images of large fish caught just offshore on Príncipe over the years (below),  so Dr. Rocha’s observations are disturbing.

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Twenty kg+  barracuda, caught off Praia Lemba-Lemba, Principe in 2001.

The dynamite or blast fishing issue is an especially critical one, as underwater habitat can be permanently destroyed as a result. The activity was originally brought to the attention of local authorities some years ago; nevertheless, most of the local inhabitants in the fishing industry know about it according to the team, and indications are that it continues in spite of government efforts.
Príncipe was named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2013, and I am proud to add that the scientific results of our multidisciplinary expeditions played a positive role in the island’s recognition as a unique place on the globe.  Apart from the obvious long-term economic and environmental consequences of continued blast fishing, Príncipe’s World Biosphere status could make this activity extremely visible internationally and embarrassing. As of 2007, 403 inshore fish species have been listed for this tiny 10002 km island. Unchecked and unstudied over fishing in these idyllic tropical waters will disastrously degrade the incredible biodiversity levels of this ancient island.

island biology

 This summer my colleagues Martim Melo, Ricardo Lima, Luis Ceríaco and I are all attending the international conference on island biology which is being held the University of the Azores. We are organizing a special symposium on the Gulf of Guinea Islands, and Dr. Lima is leading an afternoon sub-session on conservation. He is the author of a recent article (below) on habitat loss in São Tomé and Príncipe and hopefully the session will lead to a discussion of major ecological issues such as this and blast fishing.

http://www.econotimes.com/Deforestation-an-alert-from-the-islands-of-S%C3%A3o-Tom%C3%A9-and-Pr%C3%ADncipe-180253

Our work has enjoyed the support of the government since Gulf of Guinea I in 2001; one of our good friends, Jose Cassandra, is Regional President of Príncipe.

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Office of Hon. Jose Cassandra (left) with Dr. Maria Jeronimo and myself. A. Stanbridge phot. (GG IX)

Prior to a workshop on green economy by UNESCO, the people of Santo Antonio had a general clean-up of the town. Below are two photos of President “Toze,” helping clean up the Rio Papagaio (Parrot River) that runs through town. Suffice to say, he is a charismatic leader and a good friend.

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Another blog will be forthcoming soon as we prepare for the conference and GG XI in the Fall. It is also time to formulate our primary school education efforts for the coming season.

The parting shot:

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One of our third grade classes! We will visit them and nearly 2000 other primary schoolers during GG XI when they are in the fourth grade.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG IX

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 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