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

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

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

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

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The Belo Monte boat; Pico Mesa in the background.

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

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

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

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

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

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The new green tree from of Principe Island.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PARTNERS

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

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

THE RACE: 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: More New Species, More New Science

After a reconnaissance by me in 2000, our island expeditions began with the very first in 2001; there were 12 scientists and their students on GG I, and some of us remained in the islands for over two months. Fieldwork, especially in this island paradise goes quickly but the actual science takes time, and it is heartening that this very first expedition (of eight!) is still yielding results.

There were two arachnologists (spider specialists) on GG I: Dr. Charles Griswold of the Academy and his graduate student Joel Ledford of the University of California, Berkeley (now Dr. Ledford).  Charles and Joel worked on both islands as did we all.

Dr. Joel Ledford, collecting basalt cliffs, Laguna Azul, São Tomé (D.Lin, GG I)

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Dr. Charles Griswold, above Lago Amelia, São Tomé (D. Lin, GG I)

Upon our return to the California Academy of Sciences, Charles and Joel sent some of the spiders they collected on the islands to different experts on various spider groups. Among the spiders sent were members of the Family Pholcidae; these very long-legged creatures are known as “daddy long-legs spiders” or cellar spiders here in the US.

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 Pholcid spider – Google Images

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 Pholcid spider – Google Images

The specimens were sent to Dr. Bernhard A. Huber of the Alexander Koenig Museum of Zoology in Bonn, Germany, who discovered that three samples, two from São Tomé and one from Príncipe were species new to science. He described them as follows:
Leptopholcus obo, named after our natural park, were collected in small pit traps we dug at Macambrara near Bom Sucesso, São Tomé;
Pholcus batepa named after the 1953 massacre site, were collected at 700 m in the aqueduct tunnels of the Contador Valley above Neves, in São Tomé;
and Smeringopus principe, named for the island and collected at a locality along the road from Santo Antonio to Sundy, Príncipe. There will be many more new species described as all of our collections, not just the spiders, are open to biologists around the world. Many have already been on loan for many years.
Readers will rememberthat GG II and GG III were joined by mycologists, Drs. Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry of San Francisco State University. Where only 10-15 species of mushrooms had been described from the islands earlier, these two workers found over 200 species, with about 30% estimated to be new to science.

 

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 Prof. Dennis Desjardin, San Francisco State Univerisity (D.Lin, GG. II)

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Scytinopogon sp.,  a  new species of leatherbeard fungus, Príncipe (Desjardin, GG III)

In modern times the first actual product of scientific research is a formal, peer-reviewed publication in a scientific journal. Some journals are considered more prestigious than others (usually based on their selectivity), and it is considered quite an honor to get the “cover article;” i.e., the article highlighted/illustrated on the cover of the journal in which it occurs.

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Evolution Volume 69, Number 4, 2115.

A new publication by one of us, Dr. Rayna Bell (GG VI and VII), has just been so honored (above), and also the cover image is a photo by our veteran photographer Andrew Stanbridge (GG V-VIII)! The paper is another on the evolution of three of the islands’ remarkable frog species: the São Tomé giant treefrog and oceanic treefrog, and the Príncipe oceanic treefrog.

 

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 Bell, Drewes and Zamudio. 2015. Evol. 69 (4): 904-915

Using DNA data, Dr. Bell found that the common ancestor of the São Tomé giant tree frog and São Tomé oceanic tree frog originally dispersed from mainland Africa to São Tomé first, where it differentiated into the giant species (H. thomensis) in the higher elevations and the lowland oceanic tree frog (H. molleri). In addition, the common ancestor of the tree frog population on Príncipe came from São Tomé rather than the reverse. This is in contradiction to the “progression rule” that assumes that colonization events (dispersal) usually proceed from an older island to a younger one as in Hawai’i.

Rayna has found that the Príncipe oceanic tree frog has undergone enough genetic change to be recognized as a distinct species from the very similar São Tomé lowland tree frog and that in addition, the lowland species has recently begun to hybridize with the giant tree frog from which it used to be geographically separated. The cause of this has been the upward expansion of agricultural lands into the primary forests of the highlands, bringing the two species closer together.
GG IX will take place in September-October of this year, and in the next blog I will introduce the participants and describe this year’s biodiversity education project.
In the meantime, here is the parting shot:

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Mesa (from the north), Príncipe . The top is carpeted with virgin, untouched forest.  Our botanists have sampled it only briefly during GG VII. We must return.

 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: Another New Species and Contributions from our Citizen Scientists

Colleagues in London, Drs. Simaikis and Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum, have just published a paper on centipedes that includes some very old specimens from São Tomé and Príncipe collected as early as the 1930’s.  Among the material, they discovered a new. presumably endemic species.

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Meet Otostigmus coltellus (left), from Zootaxa 3734 (2013). For scientific purposes, only the parts of the animal that are important for identification are published; the photo on the right  (RCD phot – GG II) may or may not be an Otostigmus but it would look something like this.  I am told they are difficult to identify unless you look at underparts, but as all islanders know, these centopéias can deliver a painful, sometimes dangerous bite.  So far, the new O. coltellus is known only from Ilheu Rolas and Zampalma on São Tomé; it and O. productus are considered unique to the islands, while the two large reddish species of Scolopendra (see below) found on both islands are probably introduced. This means that the centipedes of São Tomé and Príncipe are 50% unique (endemic).

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Scolopendra subspinipes feeding on slug (D. Lin phot.  GG I

More and more islanders on São Tomé and Príncipe are posting images of strange island creatures on the internet. For instance, in my last blog I was able to include photos taken by the staff of Praia Inhame of the largest reptile in the world, the leatherback sea turtle.

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Mobula, a large manta ray on Praia San Paolo, near airport, Sao Tome.  unknown phot.

Another example is this huge manta ray which was caught off Praia San Paolo near the airport last year.  This could be one of six different manta species of the genus Mobula that occur in this part of the Atlantic.  In these cases, we do not know who took the pictures, but we can still respond with identifications.

Still others are sending us pictures of animals and plants directly for identification; we call these people “citizen scientists,” and we hope our continuing expeditions and education programs are having something to do with this.

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Estrela Matilde lives on Príncipe Island and works as Supervisor for HBD Agricultural Operations.  Recently a fisherman brought her the strange creature figured below:

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 Scyllarides herklotsii  E. Matilde phot

I took the photo to some of my colleagues at the Academy who identified it as a red slipper lobster, and we were able to send Estrela the information below.

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1991 FAO species catalog. Vol. 13

We have received some very interesting photos From São Tomé Island, over the past few years but most recently from Ponta Figo.

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina are the proprietors of Mucumbli Ponta Figo, a restaurant/guest resort in the northwest of the big  island. Tiziano is evidently very fond of African civets (Civetticus civetta) and has had several as pets. One that now lives in the garden is 14 years old, but he has a new pup as well.

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Tiziano’s 14 year old Civet

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Tiziano’s latest pet.

African civets are widespread on the African mainland (I have seen many). They are the largest members of the mongoose family, Viverridae, but are not native to the islands.  It is said they were introduced to control rodents about 100 years ago. They are largely nocturnal and eat virtually anything.

But the most intriguing photos the Mucumbli people sent me were of some mushrooms they found a month or so ago.

Readers will recall that before we began our expeditions, fewer than 15 species were known from São Tomé, and Príncipe had never been sampled.  We now have 225 species;, over 30% are apparently new to science.  I immediately sent the Mucumbli shots to Dr. Dennis Desjardin, an outstanding  mycologist and veteran of two Gulf of Guinea expeditions.

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Ponta Figo boletes- Mucumbli phot

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Ponta Figo boletes-Mucumbli phot

Dennis immediately identified the mushrooms as boletes, a rather general term largely referring to their shape.  He could not identify them without actually having them in hand but did say that we have never collected this species, and they may well be the first ectomycorrhizal fungus for São Tomé!  This term refers to the symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants, such as conifers, beeches, or orchids; this relationship is found among a number of mushroom groups, and frequently the association is with particular species of plants or trees. We had already discovered two genera of ectomycorrhizal fungi on Principe (see below) but so far none confirmed from the big island.

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Ramaria sp. from Principe Desjardin phot – GG III

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Principe Amanita sp. Desjardin phot GG III

Clearly, we need to get some samples of the Ponta Figo mushrooms.

Back on Principe, Marnie Saidi of Santo Antonio is our champion citizen scientist so far.

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Marnie and her partner Hassan own and operate a construction business in Santo Antonio, Principe.  She has participated in a number of our biodiversity education projects in schools on the smaller island and has become quite the naturalist.
The garden behind her house is nothing special (see below) but the creatures that visit her every year are quite surprising.

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Saidi phot, 2013

Last year, Marnie caught a number of large beetles on her property and actually put them in the freezer for me to await our return last April. They are still being identified, but the photo below is a long-horned beetle, of the Family Cerambycidae. Note Marnie’s green fingernails, offered as scale.

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Principe long-horned beetle. Saidi phot, 2012

Below is an image from the internet to show what a long-horned beetle looks like when it is not in a jar-this is a much smaller individual.

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Alexandr Novas phot. from internet

Marnie’s catches of long-horned beetles are particularly notable as so far as we know, 40% of the species of this group are found nowhere else but São Tomé and Príncipe.  Below is another of Marnie’s beetles, which we now have here at the Academy.  It has been tentatively identified by our entomologists as a dynastine scarab.

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Principe dynastine scarab- Saidi phot 2012

Since we returned, Marnie has sent us a number of intriguing images of her strange visitors. The next email was the photo below, actually I think it is two different images of the same spider.

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Giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria. Saidi phot. 2013

Dr. Charles Griswold, one of my colleagues here at the Academy identified this as a giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria; these are widespread on the mainland and not unsuspected to be present on Príncipe.  They are frequently welcomed into homes, as they eat large numbers of insect pests. Marnie then sent a photo of a beautiful green moth.

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Green moth, Thalassa quadraria (Geometridae) Saidi phot 2013

This was kindly identified by my friend Dr. Luis F. Mendes of the Institute for Tropical Science Research in Lisbon.  Although, he is a butterfly specialist who has just published a paper on the butterflies of the islands, he is sure that this green moth is a new record for Principe!

During the past few weeks, Marnie has been visited by two of the three unique frog species on the small island.

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Male Leptopelis palmatus, the Principe Giant Tree Frog.  Saidi phot. 2013

This is a male of the Principe giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus.  Photos of this species have appeared in this blog many times. The males can be many different colors, but the females are usually dull green; the eyes of both species are always bright red. According to the tenets of biogeography, there should be no frogs at all on the islands, as there has never been a connection with the mainland!  What is spectacular about this particular species is that the females are the largest of all African tree frogs (up to 110 mm)! It is the only island amphibian species whose tadpoles (aquatic larvae) we have never found and described.

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Oceanic tree frog,  Hyperolius molleri. Saidi phot. 2013

Marnie was most recently visited by an Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius molleri. Until very recently, we thought this species was the only one that occurs on both São Tomé and Príncipe, but very recent evidence hints that the two populations may be different. We are working on it.

As you can see, observations by islanders, Citizen Scientists, are of great value to us and the world of science.  We are busy identifying  specimens and planning our next expeditions; perhaps a short educational one in the Spring, and another full-fledged one in early 2015.

Here’s the parting shot:

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Regional President Hon. Jose Cassandra hoists aloft the certificate designating Principe Island a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve!

PARTNERS

We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII 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 continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.

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

The Race: GG VII Potpourri and the World’s Largest Reptile

Much has happened since my last post from the islands a couple of months ago which accounts for the tardiness of this one. However, Rayna Bell, our Cornell PhD candidate did manage to post two videos via National Geographic while we were on the islands.

I was invited to speak in TEDxSão Tomé, a great honor, and so returned in mid-June.  Readers should know that there is but one TAP flight to the islands per week via Lisbon so this is no small undertaking especially for a single lecture.  TEDx was a wonderful experience, and I was able to meet with some the brightest young people from the islands and to “spread the biodiversity word” internationally as well.

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me at tedx

In the meantime, back at the Academy, we have been assessing the results of our fieldwork on GG VII; below is an image of the 2013 team, along with some of our best local friends.

Team 7

The tall Sao Tomean in the back row, and the woman on the far right are Quintino Quade and Roberta dos Santos, respectively; the gentleman in the wheelchair is Ned Seligman. All three work for an NGO called STeP UP which has interacted closely with our CAS teams since the very beginning, especially with our biodiversity education efforts.

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The on-going project was recently presented and summarized at international meetings in New Orleans by Dr. Tom Daniel, our senior botanist. Courtesy Charlotte Pfeiffer, CAS.

 

Shortly after returning, I learned from two colleagues here at CAS, entomologists Dr. Paco Hita Garcia and Georg Fischer, that they had described a new ant species from Sao Tome back in 2010, but somehow forgotten to tell me! The members of GG I collected these along the trail from Bom Successo and Lagoa Amelia  over 12 years ago!

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Tetramorium renae, Photo by CAS Project Lab.

Miko Nadel, our lichenologist, has narrowed the focus of his MA dissertation to the fruticose lichens of the genus Usnea which are found at higher elevations on the islands. He ascended Pico Príncipe, and readers will recall that he was part of the team that ascended Pico do São Tomé during GG VI.  He now has over 600 collections upon which to base the first survey of this group in the islands.

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Usnea sp. M.Nadel phot. GG VII, Principe Id.

Miko’s major advisor at San Francisco State University is Dr. Dennis Desjardin, a world authority on mushrooms and veteran of GG II and III. The blog of a year ago (April: Mountains that Glow) featured Miko’s discovery of tiny glowing mushrooms on Pico Sao Tome and later, glowing mycelium (threadlike plant body of fungi) covering steep hillsides at around 1100 meters. This year our photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, returned to Macambrara, the second locality, and discovered larger whole mushrooms that glow, not just the vegetative bodies. The two images below are of the same unidentified mushrooms in daylight and at night.

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A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII, Macambrara, Sao Tome.

Rayna Bell reports from Cornell: we have very strong evidence now that the two species [São Tomé giant treefrog and Oceanic treefrog] are hybridizing [on São Tomé] (individuals of intermediate size/color and lots of molecular data to back that up), and now the question is whether they have always exchanged migrants and still diverged in body size, coloration, and breeding site (divergence with geneflow) or if they were isolated in the past and have recently come back in to contact (allopatric speciation). Just as exciting is that Rayna has discovered that the Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius molleri (right below), that has long been thought to occur on both islands, does not; i.e., although very similar to each other morphologically, the two island populations are very different genetically, contradicting earlier molecular work by one of my interns years ago! Rayna and one of her undergraduate students just published their GG VI findings of chytrid fungus on the Sao Tome Cobra bobo; this is only the second published incidence of the fungus on a caecilian species.

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Rayna Bell (r), Hyperolius molleri (l). phots by A. Stanbridge, GG VII

Dr. Tamas Szuts, our Hungarian spider expert, was able to make great collections of salticids (jumping spiders) and orb weavers (Araneidae). Tamas was particularly excited about his collections of the genus Pochyta (below), a problematic group within the family.

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Pochyta sp. Phot. T. Szuts, GG VII

Many of Tamas’s specimens are still being identified, but he writes: I also made some interesting observations about their [Pochyta] life history: a specimen had camped on a leaf just above a Phallus muchroom which attracted some small flies. [The] specimen was observed to jump several times toward the flying or landing targets, and then climbing back onto the leaf with the aid of its dragline.
Tamas took the remarkable photos below.

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T. Szuts photos. GG VII

Finally, since we returned in May I have received several remarkable photographs of leatherback sea turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, one of four species that nest on the beaches of São Tomé and Príncipe. In terms of mass, this is the largest reptile in the world. The largest female on record was 915 kg (just under 1 ton, and close to 3 meters long (9.8 feet)!

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Massive female Leatherback; unknown photographer, East coast of Sao Tome, 1998, courtesy of Liv Larsson

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Praia Inhame, São Tomé 2013; unknown photographer

 

Same turtle, Praia Inhame, São Tomé 2013; unknown photographer

There is much, much more which I will report in late September. Until then, here’s the parting shot:

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Southeast view of Príncipe Island from the Jockey’s Bonnet.  A. Stanbridge GG VII

PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII has been funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: Mountains That Glow

 

Drs. Brian Simison and Tomio Iwamoto and Roberta Ayres and Rayna Bell left early this morning on the TAP flight for home; five of us remain: our two botanists on Principe and three of us here on Sao Tome continue. It is time for a science update, especially since it is pouring rain as I write, and our biodiversity education mission on the big island is completed for now.

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Last week, and for the first time, Academy scientists collected the top of Pico do Sao Tome. At over 2,000 meters, the peak is remote and can be quite dangerous to ascend in the rainy season, especially carrying equipment. Our guys were able to accomplish this with help from our friends, Andre Reis, Hugo Serodio and Antonio Fernandes. Andre runs Tropic Ventures, a new company that provides various tourist activities including car rentals, water sports, etc but they also take on really hairy missions into the interior of the island. Andre is ex-military (Portuguese) and his company, equipment and skills are very, very good.

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After a postponement due to the rains, Jim Shevock, Miko Nadel, and our photographer Andrew Stanbridge made two-day ascent, collecting all the way.

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Those who know Jim Shevock, the Academy’s moss expert, will not be surprised to learn that he went nuts. I have no idea how many moss specimens he got nor how many are new, but to say he was enthusiastic upon their return would be a gross understatement.

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But the neatest discovery was made by Miko Nadel, our lichen grad student from San Francisco State. Sitting and eating dinner in the darkness, Miko looked down and thought he saw Andrew’s wristwatch on the ground, glowing at his feet. What he soon discovered was not Andrew’s watch but a patch of bioluminescent mushrooms!

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Miko’s graduate advisor, Dr. Dennis Desjardin, a world authority on mushrooms, was with us on GG II and GG III and made the first comprehensive survey of both islands. But , curiously, Dennis (a Fellow of CAS) has recently been doing cutting edge research on bioluminescent mushrooms! So I waited until Dennis gave his OK, before posting Andrew’s images of these remarkable fungi. As usual, we will not know what all this means until we return to CAS for analysis. That is how science works.

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Rayna Bell’s mission was to examine the possible hybridization between the Sao Tome giant treefrog, Hyperolius thomensis and the oceanic treefrog, H. molleri. We have had genetic and phenotypic hints that this might be happening for some time now. Rayna’s PhD thesis at Cornell is on the evolution of sexual dichromatism in African treefrog species.

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It looks as though hybridization is indeed going on between the two species at about 800 to 900 meters. Rayna was able to get samples of the giant frog at 1400 meters and then sampled “downhill” at various elevations to nearly sea level, in oceanic treefrog territory. We had great help from Joao Pedro Pio, a young Portuguese friend who is working on the endemic maroon pigeon; lucky for us, he loves adventure and frogs. Rayna is tireless, bright and fun to be with; but among us bush herpetologists, the real test is how one does in the boonies. She is wonderful; I was proud to have her along with us.

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And by the way, last night (Rayna’s last), she and Andrew visited the “magic tree” where we have always found the giant treefrog.. they came in about midnight, and told me that as they sat next to the tree, waiting for frogs, the entire forest floor around them was aglow!

It is still raining and outside my door, a Sao Tome prinia is hopping around in the bushes; I will let Andrew’s pictures speak of Tomio Iwamoto and Brian’s adventures in Micoló catching mudskippers and pipefish.

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The Parting Shot:

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all photos by Andrew Stanbridge

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to collectexport specimens for study. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include 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. Abell,John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. Logistics and lodging for GG VI (Omali Lodge and Bom Bom Island) were kindly provided by HBD.

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

The Race: New Species or What’s in a Name?

Ever wonder why biologists use weird, hard-to-pronounce names for animal and plant species?  Well, it all started with Carl Linnaeus, the famous Swedish 18th Century botanist pictured below.

In the 10th edition of his great work, Systema Naturae (1758), Linnaeus established a system  wherein  every living species is given but a single scientific name made up of two parts: the Genus (always capitalized) and the species (always lower case and both are always italicized).  Among animals, no two species ever have the same name, and this is true among plants, as well.  Thus we modern humans are scientifically referred to only as Homo sapiens.  In Linnaeus’s day, most scientists wrote in Latin or Greek, thus it was an early tradition to establish these names in those ancient languages.  Now, naming of new species is tightly regulated by The International Congress of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN; the botanists have the ICBN).  A specific scientific name avoids confusion… here is an example:

The common English name of the critter above is red rattlesnake, or red diamondback rattlesnake; some locals might call it a “red buzzworm!”  In French it would be called un serpent á  sonnettes rouge;  in German: eine rote klapperschlange and if an East African ever saw one, he might call it nyoka sumu nyukundu.  See the problem?  Not only different base languages, but regional differences in common names serve to muddy the waters.  However, the scientific name of this critter is Crotalus ruber, and regardless of their native languages, scientists will always know exactly what species is being discussed.  Taxonomists usually try to come up with a name that is descriptive of the species; in this case, Crotalus ruber translates roughly from the Latin as “red bell-ringer,” an obvious reference to its color and the sound made by the rattle.

The Sao Tome shrew: Crocidura thomensis (R. Lima phot, 2009)

Here is another example– the supposedly endemic shrew we are just beginning to study is called Crocidura thomensis, which meansyellow-tail from Thomas [=São Tomé]”.  Probably the first species described in the genus Crocidura had a yellowish tail, although C. thomensis clearly does not.

The Oceanic Treefrog, Hyperolius molleri (Weckerphoto GG III)

Scientists may also name species in honor of the person who first collected the specimen; such is the case with the Oceanic treefrog, Hyperolius molleri, found on both São Tomé and Príncipe, M.A.F. Moller was the late 19th Century explorer who first collected the frogs and brought them to Portugal where the species was named in his honor at the University of Coimbra.

Sao Tome puddlefrog, Phrynobatrachus leveleve  (Weckerphoto GG III0

Taxonomists have a fair amount of latitude in the choice of words and meanings for scientific names although they are usually Latinized.  As an example, Josef Uyeda, Breda Zimkus and I chose Phrynobatrachus leveleve as the new name for one of our own new species of frogs from São Tomé.  Phrynobatrachus is an old generic name and actually means “toad-frog;” as to the meaning of leveleve, here is a quote from our paper:  The phrase, “leve leve,” generally meaning “easy, easy” or “lightly, lightly” has also been translated by Henrique Pinto da Costa, former Minister of Agriculture, as “calmly, surely.” In our opinion, all three definitions describe the delightful, easy-going demeanor of the citizens of The Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe….it is with the hope that the citizens of this tiny African nation will maintain their ecological heritage and cheerful outlook on life that we name this diminutive endemic anuran. Thus, we named the new species in honor of the attitude of the island citizens.

Illustration by H. Heatwole, 1970

Scientists are also known to inject humor into scientific names, on occasion. The image above is a composite plate from a scientific publication.  By way of explanation, many American scientists receive support for their work from our National Science foundation, known universally to us over here as “NSF”.  Look at the upper-most image of a frog known scientifically as Physalaemus enesefae… if you are an English speaker, pronounce the species name slowly and you’ll get the humor.

Now for the fun stuff: here is a photo of our latest new species from São Tomé, a mushroom we discovered on the trail up to Lagoa Ameliaduring GG II in 2006.  It was formally described just last month in the journal MYCOLOGIA,  and Drs Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry named it after me.   It is called Phallus drewesi meaning (literally) Drewes’s penis!

Phallus drewesi Desjardin & Perry 2009 (B. Perry phot. GG III)

As you can see, these fungi are shaped very much like a mammalian penis… they usually grow upright from the forest floor, smell terrible and attract flies! The flies act as vectors disperse the fungus’s spores!

Dr. Brian Perry with a Principe Phallus  (RCD phot. GG III)

Members of the genus Phallus can grow quite large. Above is an image of Dr. Brian Perry, one of the describers, holding an example of Phallus atrovolvatus from Príncipe –a rather average sized Phallus.

The author with Phallus drewesi on Sao Tome  (Weckerphoto, GG III)

Above is a picture of me holding a couple of examples of Phallus drewesi in 2008, and as you can see, they are quite small!  Not only that, but so far as is known P. drewesi is the second smallest species in the world!  And, it grows limp! Not proudly erect from the forest floor!

It has been hard for some of my non-scientists to understand what an incredible honor this is.  Dennis, Brian and I are good friends and colleagues; in fact, Dennis and I play jazz together as often as we can and serve on the same university faculty.

The author and Dr. Desjardin at Praia Francesa. (Weckerphoto GG III)

It is a great honor because having a species named for you confers a form of immortality. Regardless of what the species is, the scientific name lives on as long as there is science. This is even the case even if decades from now, another scientist learns that this species already has a name – Phallus drewesi lives on in the botanical literature as a synonym. Scientists keep track of all names formally ascribed to a species, whether valid or not.  So, yes, it is a wonderful thing to have something named after you, whatever it may be!

Here’s the parting shot:

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) 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 Bardero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, and the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden 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 and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami for helping make these expeditions possible.