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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Latrodectus

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Heteropoda

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Leptopholcus

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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

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The Race: GG VII – – First Week: Snakes, Workshops and Spiders

Our first week is now complete. The botanists and Andrew our photographer went to Príncipe early so I will include their progress in a later blog. One thing I will add though is a picture Andrew emailed us yesterday, a shot of the endemic diurnal green snake, the Príncipe Soá-soá. We have only been able to collect one of these (GG I); it is an extremely elusive species.

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Hapsidophrys principis  A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

Signe Mikulane, a PhD student at the University of Heidelberg had been in contact with me during the past few months and delayed her return to Germany to be with us for a week. She joined us in our early school visits, and especially our annual check of the status of the large tree where we find the Sao Tome giant treefrog.

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 We found no adults but Signe dug her hand into the tree hole and came up with tadpoles, so we know the tree is still in use. In the picture above, there are several tadpoles in her hands.

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  Velma Schnoll &Signe Mikulane return from the frog tree

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With the arrival of Roberta Ayres (and Dr. Szuts) the biodiversity education team was complete.

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Saturday we held our first ever teacher workshop at Escola Primaria Maria de Jesus, the largest primary school in the country (2,000+ kids).

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 We spoke to 58 teachers about island biodiversity in more depth so that they can use the materials we have brought more efficiently. The hour and a half presentation was extremely well received, even though we had to project our powerpoint on the back of a canvas painting!

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Although we are concentrating on fourth grade this year, the teachers were from all grades and we have already noticed that our materials, the posters, the coloring books, etc. are used widely at many different levels.

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The education team: Velma Schnoll, Roberta Ayres, Roberta dos Santos

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Dr. Tamas Szuts, Professor of Biology at the University of West Hungary is our jumping spider expert. We took him into the field early, to the south end of the island and he began collecting.

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Here, Tamas is using a simple sweep net. RCD phot GG VII

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Tamas is using a beating pan here. He holds it beneath a bush and beats the latter.  RCD phot GG VII

 By the way, these pictures do not do Tamas justice. He is about 6’ 8” tall. He brings specimens back live and then photographs them in great detail.

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 This is Tamas photo setup in our room and the results are truly spectacular RCD phot GG VII

By the way, the bottle on the right is NOT vodka; it is lab grade ethyl alcohol for the preservation of DNA,

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T. Szuts photos GG VII

The second two images are salticid, or jumping spiders; the first is of a different group.

In this YouTube video, Tamas Szuts describes his fieldwork: http://youtu.be/LDdFMn0eARw

More soon when Rayna, our frog student arrives and we reunite with the rest of the science team.

Here’s the parting shot:

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Satocao workers returning from cacao plantation V. Schnoll phot GG VII

PARTNERS:

We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://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: Island Biologists in Training

Jens Vindum, Senior Collections Manager, Department of Herpetology. (phot D. Lin-GG I)

I need to add and addendum to last month’s blog, “Why We collect Specimens.” Our Senior Collections Manager, Jens Vindum (GG I, GG II) has just informed me that since 2003, there have been 33 international scientific papers published on our Gulf of Guinea reptile and amphibian specimens and/or tissue samples from them!

Clearly, the scientific world is beginning to hear about Sâo Tomé and Príncipe! At this point, I do not know how much of our material from other disciplines has been used but certainly our samples are in labs all over the world.

We have been extremely fortunate to have been able to bring a series of our graduate students with us on a number of our expeditions.  Not only have most flourished academically and many have published on their island projects, they represent a cadre of new young scientists who have an understanding of the uniqueness of the islands and the people who live on them.  All have interacted closely with local island citizens and as a result, function as young biology ambassadors for these fabulous islands.  Overall, the islands are still very poorly known to the outside world, but we are getting there!  Here are our young colleagues:


Lindsay Wilson on Bioko Island with bush viper.  RCD phot – 1998

Lindsay Wilson was a participant on our 1998 expedition to Bioko, the first island in the Gulf of Guinea chain. She completed her MSc on African treefrogs of the genus Hyperolius at San Francisco State University with highest honors.


Joel Ledford on Sao Tome.  D. Lin phot- GG I

Joel Ledford joined Gulf of Guinea I as the graduate student of Dr. Charles Griswold. He completed his MSc at San Francisco State and then his PhD in spider systematics at the University of California, Berkeley.


D. Lin phot – GG I

Also on GG I was Ricka Stoelting, my graduate student. She completed her MSC on the endemic caecilian of Sao Tome (she is holding one, above) and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin.  She is also working on the publication of her MSc work at San Francisco State (SFSU).


B. Van Syoc photo – GG III

Dana Carrison-Stone was a participant of the marine expedition, GG III as the graduate student of Dr. Bob Van Syoc.  Dana discovered two new species of barnacles from the islands and they are part of her MSc which she completed last year at SFSU.


D. Lin phot – GG II

Josef Uyeda was on GG II and again GG on III as an undergraduate at Willamette University and one of my Summer Systematics interns.  During his island work, he discovered and described a new species of frog from Sâo Tomé. As I write, he is defending his doctoral thesis (tomorrow!) at Oregon State University. Flash!! Josef finished his PhD today! (Oct 5)

 

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Mac Campbell, also a Willamette undergrad, joined GG II as an assistant to our ichthyologist, Dr. Tomio Iwamoto.  He has since completed his MSc at University of Alaska, Fairbanks and is currently a PhD candidate in fish systematic at the same institution.


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Rebecca Wenk joined GG III as the grad student of Dr. Tom Daniel one of our senior botanists.  Rebecca’s work resulted in her successful completion of her MSc at SFSU and also an excellent scientific publication on plants of the family Acanthaceae.  Tragically, Rebecca died of a serious illness last year.


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Miko Nadel is a graduate student at San Francisco State, studying under Dr. Dennis Desjardin, the mycologist on GG II and GG III). Miko was a participant on GG VI doing the first comprehensive survey of lichens on the island.

A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI

Rayna Bell also joined us on GG VI, studying color variation in African treefrogs. Rayna is a PhD candidate at Cornell University.

The people above were or still are graduate students who have actually worked on the islands with us.  But they are not the only young academics studying our Gulf of Guinea Island material.  Here at the California Academy of Sciences we have a program known as the Summer Systematics Institute (SSI). This program is funded by the National Science Foundation, and undergraduate students can apply to work on scientific projects for the summer under the mentorship of a CAS faculty member. Here are those that have worked on Gulf of Guinea specimens. I have not included students who started as undergrad SSI interns and later became our grad students (Lindsay Wilson, Josef Uyeda and Ricka Stoelting).


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Katie Marshall was an Occidental College undergrad and my SSI intern in 2006.  Katie studied the genetics of the Oceanic treefrog, Hyperolius molleri, the only Gulf of Guinea endemic frog that occurs on both islands.  Katie is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, studying the genomics of marine bacteria.

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Lisette Arellano was an undergrad at the University of California, Santa Barbara when she joined us as my SSI intern in 2009. Lisette examined the morphology and genetics of cobra jita snakes (Lamprophis), long thought to be the same species on Sâo Tomé and Príncipe.  Lisette showed that in fact the two island populations are genetically quite different, also recognizable by color pattern as distinct.  Although we know each island is a different species, we have been unable to publish new names because the relationships of the same group on mainland Africa are still very unclear. Lisette is currently a PhD candidate in Biology at the University of Colorado.


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One of the last vertebrates one would predict to be native to an oceanic island is a shrew, largely due to physiological constraints. During the SSI summer of 2010, Eden Maloney’s DNA work showed that the Sâo Tomé shrew, Crocidura thomensis, did arrive on the island naturally, probably many thousands of years ago and is a true endemic species. Its nearest relative is a different species found in eastern South Africa.  Eden has just graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles and is applying to graduate schools.  We are working on publishing her work.

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Lizzie Miller of the University of California, San Diego was my most recent SSI intern (2010). Lizzie has graduated and is now in graduate school at UCSD studying fish systematics.  Readers will already know from this blog that Lizzie discovered and described a new species of gecko from Príncipe, Hemidactylus principensis.

Lauren in Nigeria. D Blackburn phot – 2012.

Lauren Scheinberg is also a grad student at San Francisco State University. Although never an SSI intern nor has she been with us to the islands, she was my lab assistant on a long-term physiology project and now works as a curatorial assistant in our department.  She has become involved in a rather complicated taxonomic problem with the island skinks of the genus Afroablepharis. Like Lisette’s snakes, we know from the work of colleagues in Madeira and Portugal that the skinks are different species on Sâo Tomé and Príncipe.  Unfortunately, material we loaned them that formed part of the basis of this hypothesis was somehow lost in transit.  Lauren has analyzed our remaining material but collating the information generated by different labs can be extremely difficult.  But we are working on it.

Plans are already afoot for GG VII next year.

Here’s the parting shot:

Joy on the way to Rolas, Sao Tome.. B. Simison phot. – GG VI

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 collect and export specimens for study. 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 HBD of Bom Bom 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. Abell, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to  “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: Sixth Gulf of Guinea Expedition Redux

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All of the GG VI participants are home now, and our specimens and materials are safely ensconced in their respective departments at the Academy.  For the first time, we had an official patch for the expedition. The original design of the cobra bobo and giant Begonia was drawn by one my graduate students, Dashiell Harwood. The patch was produced by our friend, Mike Murakami, who played such an important role in the production of the biodiversity coloring books (more about the education project below.) We gave many of these stick-on patches to third grade teachers to hand out as incentives to hard-working students.

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Dr. Iwamoto consuming his favorite, the concon. (A. Stanbridge – GG VI

Soon after Dr. Tomio Iwamoto, our marine ichthyologist and veteran of GGI and GG II returned home to the Academy a few weeks before the last of us, he left for Africa again. And, once again, he is aboard the Norwegian research vessel, the R.V. Nansen, as a senior scientist. I devoted an entire blog to his last trip aboard the Nansen, a couple of years ago.  They are trawling for deep water fish off the coast of Guinea Conakry. I believe the ship will also be exploring the coast of Mauritania in the following weeks. Since he left before we returned we have not been able to discuss his findings during GG VI; but below is a photo of the strange pipefish he and and Dr. Brian Simison seined in northern S?o Tomé

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Microphis, the only member of its family reported from S?o Tomé and Príncipe. (B. Simison-GG VI)

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Our botanists had a “a field day,” so to speak.  Recall that Jim Shevock (right) made 682 collections during GG IV, and this time he figured he would just pick up a few things he missed.  Not so. He estimates that among the 647 collections he made in GG VI are between 50 to 100 species of bryophytes he had not seen before, and these include at least 12 genera of liverworts and 12 genera of mosses that are new to the islands.
Miko Nadel (left, above) really has his hands full trying to sort out the lichens; there are 129 previously known species, but Miko made 475 collections, many of which will undoubtedly be new.  He tells me that lichenologists classify lichens by the supporting fungus rather than the symbiotic algae.

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Pico Mesa,  Príncipe ( RCD –  GG III)

In an earlier blog from the islands, I reported that Jim, Miko and our photographer Andrew were the first CAS workersto study the top of Pico do S?o Tomé. Later on Príncipe, Jim and Miko became the first of us to reach the top of Pico Mesa (above).  Because they had to walk there rather than reaching the base by boat, they were only able to explore the northern most reaches of it; it appears to be a botanist’s paradise, and we will definitely return. Dr. Tom Daniel (GG III and IV) is particularly interested in getting up there as Miko photographed an endemic Impatiens at the top.

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Gabriel, me, Rayna Bell and Joao Pedro Pio at Bom Sucesso (A. Stanbridge – GGVI)

The herpetologists also did well. Rayna and I were assisted by a young Portuguese biologist, Joao Pedro Pio (far right), currently working on the endangered endemic maroon pigeon for workers at the University of Lisbon. He and his co-workers (including Gabriel, left) accompanied Rayna on all of her nocturnal frog hunts.

 

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Above is Hyperolius molleri, the oceanic treefrog typically inhabiting the lower elevations of both islands. This particular frog is being devoured by a wolf spider and note that it is largely a uniform green in color. In many earlier blogs, I have included images of the S?o Tomé giant treefrog which is much bigger, has bright orange and black markings and is typically found above 1100 meters.

 

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Rayna’s sample from between 700 and 900 meters would strongly suggest that the two species are hybridizing at this level.  This is pretty exciting in that, if supported by genetic analysis, it will fit right into her PhD thesis at Cornell University.

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While I failed to find adult specimens of the Príncipe shrew which we know to be endemic and distinct from the S?o Tomé shrew, we did find the largest “cobra gita” (house snake: Lamprophis sp.) we have ever seen and from a new locality.  This, too, we know to be a distinct species from the S?o Tomé Lamprophis, but we have thus far been unable to describe it. This is because there are many species of the same genus on the African mainland, and their relationships are poorly understood. So while we know the two island species are distinct from one another, we cannot guarantee that one or the other (or both) does not also occur on the mainland.

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The Príncipe thumbnail-less gecko H. principensis (Weckerphoto – GG III]

While we were on Príncipe I received word that the description our new species of gecko had been formally published, so above meet Hemidactylus principensis.  Like H. greeffi, its nearest relative on S?o Tomé, it lacks the thumbnail on the first toe, but otherwise, the two are very, very different.

Dr. Brian Simison’s finding that there are no limpets on either S?o Tomé or Príncipe is intriguing.  Brian informs me that so far as he knows, S?o Tomé and Príncipe may be the only oceanic islands that lack them.  They are present on the Cape Verde Ids, the Seychelles, etc.

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Dr Brian Simison at Laguna Azul.  (A. Stanbridge – GG VI)

This leads to the possibility that there may be something in the volcanic rock making up these islands that precludes the presence of these mollusks.

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Recall from earlier blogs that all four of the Gulf of Guinea Islands, plus Mt. Cameroon, the Cameroon highlands and even the Jos Plateau of Nigeria all originated from magmatic extrusions up through a 3,000 km-long linear fissure or rift that transects both the marine and continental parts of the African plate known as the Guinea Line; extrusion of magma occurred at various times from over 60 million years ago to the very recent Holocene continental island of Bioko.

The remarkable towers of both S?o Tomé and Príncipe which appear in these blogs with such frequency are indeed of a rather uncommon, chemically distinct rock known as phonolite, usually associated with geologic hotspots.

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Príncipe, note phonolite towers and mesa on lower left. (A. Stanbridge – GG VI)

One test of the hypothesis that it is something about the rock that is excluding limpets would be to explore the shoreline of Bioko, the youngest of the Gulf of Guinea Ids and the only continental member of the archipelago.  And as luck would have it, our colleague, Rayna Bell will be working on Bioko in a matter of months.  In addition to looking for limpets on Bioko t the presence or absences of limpets along the Gulf of Guinea coast should be documented. If indeed the rock is unsuitable for limpets Brian would predict that limpets would be found on either side of Guinea Line, but not on rocks produced by it.

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(l-r, Roberta Ayres,  Velma Schnoll, me on, S?o Tomé (A.  Stanbridge – GG VI)

I devoted an entire blog last month to the biodiversity education component of GG VI, and for all of us involved, this was just joyous. We personally delivered 1,840 endemic species coloring books to third graders in 62 classrooms of 17 selected primary schools on both islands. On the big island the schools were in the districts of S?o Tomé town, Angolares, Trindade and Neves , and on Príncipe  at Santo Antonio, Sundy, Sao Joaquim, Nova Estrella and Praia Abade.

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Porto Real, “my school” on Príncipe  (V. Schnoll – GG VI)

To say they were well received would be a gross understatement.  Again, we thank all who worked on this project (see March 9 blog: Sharing the Wealth; and for those who made GG VI financially possible, see “Partners” below).  At the adult level, we also gave five lectures on the biodiversity of the islands: two in Portugal and three at institutions on the islands themselves.

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Droo doing his thing on S?o Tomé ( R. Bell – GG VI)

Andrew Stanbridge (above), our photographer on both GG V and GG VI, is a remarkable person in many ways; much more than just a gifted professional artist.  His website is Andrewstanbridge.com

Here are some parting shots:

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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 HBD of Bom Bom 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. Abell, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, 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.

The Race: Really Weird Island Snakes

A wormsnake from Kenya (Leptotyphlops drewesi).   Phot. D. Lin, CAS

In these accounts, I have written a fair amount about the two species of island house snakes (Lamprophis-cobra jita) that Lisette is still analyzing and a bit on the supposedly introduced cobra on São Tomé (Naja melanoleuca – “cobra preta”);  I have also mentioned the fact that each island also has a diurnal green snake, endemic  but unrelated to each other (Hapsidophrys principis, Philothamnus thomensis –“cobra sua sua”.   However, there are three additional snakes that I have not mentioned much: these are the so-called blind- or worm snakes.  Collectively, their technical name is the Scolecophidia, and the group is considered primitive relative to other snakes.  As their common names imply, all have reduced or no vision, virtually all of them are burrowers; they are small as snakes go and blunt at both ends, and there are about 300 species in three families found world-wide in tropical and many subtropical regions.

The fact that they are burrowers (fossorial), like the endemic São Tomé caecilian, Schistometopum thomense –“ cobra bobo”, lends credence to our 2007 hypothesis that some of the Gulf of Guinea endemics were carried to the islands from mainland Africa on very large floating chunks of riverbank from either the Niger or the Congo.  Burrowing legless vertebrates are unlikely to be found floating on logs or being carried by high winds!

Proposed riverbank raft (Measey, et al., 2007). Illustration: Richard E. Cook

There are three endemic blindsnakes on the oceanic Gulf of Guinea Islands: The beatiful golden blindsnake, Typhlops elegans is endemic to Príncipe island.  It is often confused by locals with the São Tomé burrowing caecilian, as its Kreo name implies: “cobra bobo do Príncipe.

Typlops elegans, the “cobra bobo do Principe.”  Weckerphoto GG III

Typlops elegans. D. Lin phot. GG II

Two endemic blindsnakes inhabit São Tomé exclusively, and as you can see they are extremely similar in appearance.

Fea’s wormsnake, Rhinotyphlops feae. D. Lin phot. GG II

Newton’s wormsnake, Rhinotyphlops newtoni. RCD phot. GG I

The reason I have not written much about them is that they are rather poorly known. Most species are small and difficult to work with, in that the characteristics that might serve to distinguish them are also very small and nearly impossible to discern without magnification.  My colleague, Dr. Van Wallach, of Harvard University is probably the current world authority on these wormlike snakes, and it has taken much of his career to understand them; many of the characteristics he has studied are internal.

Colleagues of mine have just published a major work on one of the families, the Typhlopidae,  in Biology Letters, a distinguished international journal.  Prof. Blair Hedges kindly gave me permission to reproduce the figure below, and I am discussing it here relative to our island work in order to show how the work of others can add to, support or even falsify one’s own– it is how science proceeds.from Vidal, Marin, Morini, Donnellan, Branch, Thomas, Vences, Wynn, Cruaud & Hedges. 2010 Biology Letters 6:558-561

This is not as complicated as it may seem although it will be difficult to read at low resolution.  As with other cladograms, each of the names on the far right column  represents a single species clustered with its nearest relative(s); thus it is a “picture” of proposed evolutionary relationships.  This figure also contains estimates of when each lineage and its nearest relative split from their common ancestor (time divergence)—the common ancestor is indicated by a black dot (node) and the length of each branch linking two species is an indication of time.  Actual time in millions of years is given on the very bottom, along with the names of the geologic periods in vertical colored bars (blue= Jurassic; light green = early and late Cretaceous (K); orange  = Paleogene, and yellow, the most recent =  Neogene).  The authors have also provided diagrams (upper left) of the relative positions of the continents during the breakup of Gondwanaland.  The major points of this study are (1) that the common ancestor of all scolecophidians dates back 150 million years to the Jurassic Period (before the breakup of Gondwanaland), (2) that the ancestor of the modern Typhlopidae originally existed on an early landmass the authors call Indigascar (Madagacar + India) back in the Late Cretaceous, and (3) that the presence of their modern relatives in South America, Australia and the West Indies is most likely the result of a number of overwater dispersal events (like rafting), including a major western transatlantic one.

Vidal and the other authors included samples of the Gulf of Guinea Islands endemics which we collected during GG I and GG II, and their results are of great interest to us as we try to understand the origins of the Gulf of Guinea Islands biodiversity.

Expanded view of African clade from Vidal et al. Principe species in blue; Sao Tome species in red.

Distribution of the two Sao Tome wormsnakes and nearest relatives.

Here is the disjunct pattern that has frequently appeared when we look at the evolutionary relationships between Gulf of Guinea island endemics and their African mainland relatives; first, note that Rhinotyphlops newtoni and R. feae appear to have diverged from their common ancestor only a few million years ago.  Since, the minimum age of São Tomé is regarded as about 13 million years, it seems likely that this split occurred on the island, possibly as a result of volcanic events which isolated two populations of the ancestor from each other.  This is a more likely scenario than separate colonization events from the mainland.  However, the nearest relatives of the island species are a clade (sister-group) comprising R. unitaeniatus of East Africa and R. lalandei of southern Africa, and a look at the branch lengths of this sister-relationship suggests that, if the time divergence estimates  in this publication are correct, the common ancestor of both groups existed on the mainland over 50 million years ago.

Distribution of Principe wormsnake and its nearest relatives.

The situation with the beautiful Príncipe endemic, Typlops elegans is somewhat unclear, since the true distribution of its nearest relative, T. angolensis, is not known with certainty; the latter is said to occur from coastal Cameroon, south to Gabon and Angola and west to western Kenya, but these specimens have never been systematically examined.  Moreover, African distributions as broad as this one frequently turn out to be made up of the distributions a number of similar “cryptic” species.  But assuming that T. angolensis does have this distribution, that the tree is accurate, and the time divergences therein are reasonable estimates, one would naturally conclude that the ancestor of “cobra bobo do Príncipe“ reached that island and diverged from mainland T. angolensis during the past few million years.  If branch lengths are accurate it would appear this happened at roughly the same time as the two São Tomé endemics were diverging from their common ancestor.  Even though Príncipe, at 31 million years, is more than twice as old as São Tomé is geologically, this is not an unreasonable hypothesis.

This cladogram also suggests that these two blindsnakes share common ancestry with an unidentified species (specimen) collected at Lwiro, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This interests us because this locality is close to the Itombwe Highlands, which are, geologically, very, very old, dating back to the Mesozoic.

On a different tangent, our island biodiversity posters are nearing completion, and that will be my next topic.

The parting shot:

Our work in Paradise.  Sao Tome, Weckerphoto – GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor and Velma and Michael Schnoll for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: On Tiny Skinks and Contemplating GG IV

It is the holiday season in this part of the world, and the California Academy of Sciences (where most of us island biologists work) is absolutely packed.  I thought I would share a few images of our public floors.  We scientists and our collections and laboratories are behind the scenes in an off-limits wing, and I would bet that a lot of our public visitors still do not realize we do science here; last year we had 2.3 million of them from all over the world.

Visitors waiting at the front entrance, (12:30 PM, Dec. 30th, 2009- RCD)

The Rainforest exhibit – RCD photo.

Waiting to enter the Rainforest RCD-photo.

Our albino alligator Claude’s swamp,  central courtyard. RCD phot.

So if it is the holiday season, why am I here in the lab?  Part of the answer is that I am planning our next expedition, GG IV. A small group of us are going back to the islands in February with several rather specific missions… I will describe our plans in the next blog.  Meantime, here are some updates:

Dr. Tom Daniel’s publication with Estrela Figueirido on the Acanth flowers of São Tomé and Príncipe was just published today, and we are taking copies over to islands with us.  As usual, we have provided an abstract in Portuguese.

Figure 3  from the new paper (T. Daniel composite).

Afroablepharis on Sao Tome – D Lin phot-GG II

Above is a leaf litter skink called Afroablepharis. Until we started working on the island fauna, both islands were thought to be inhabited by the same species (then called Panaspis africanus).  We provided tissue samples of some of our GGI material from both islands to colleagues at the University of Madeira. Dr. Jose Jesus and his colleagues found that the two populations were genetically distinct and that each island had its own, separate species.

On-going island projects (RCD construct)

Unfortunately, all of the original specimens from which tissues were taken were subsequently lost in the international mail and were never returned to the Academy.  Since we still have additional preserved skinks from the same localities on both islands, my Research Assistant, Lauren Scheinberg (left, above), is carefully examining all of them to find the physical differences we would usually (but not always) expect to find in two species distinct from one another. We are now formally collaborating with Dr. Jesus and his Madeira team.

Above, on the right, is Lisette, who is still working on the jita snakes (earlier blogs), and this has also expanded into a much larger project with several international collaborators and samples from mainland Africa.  The shrew comparison on the lower left is one of our goals for GG IV. We will meet up with Ricardo Lima on São Tomé, the man who rediscovered this unlikely creature.

More detail on GG IV when I return from Ethiopia.

Here’s the parting shot:

Principe Golden Weaver, Ploceus princeps.  Weckerphoto – GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien 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, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore and Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III for helping make these expeditions possible.

The Race: Critter and People Updates

It has been a busy couple of months, hence no posts on THE RACE.  In my last one, I hope I made it clear that scientists have senses of humor (my favorite ones do, anyway).  Here’s another fact you might not know; regardless of what he or she studies, there is probably not a single field biologist anywhere who does not have a secret dislike or even fear of one sort of critter or another.  With me, it has always been centipedes– even when I was a child.  I can’t bear the things!  And, naturally, there are some real monsters common on São Tomé.  The creatures in the shots below are about 10 inches long, sometimes they get larger!

Scolopendra subspinipes. D. Lin phot. GG II

S. subspinipes – Weckerphoto, GG III

These arthropods are more properly known as scolopendras, and they are voracious predators; the upper one is devouring a slug.  The two above are Scolopendra subspinipes, are native to Southeast Asia and thought to have been brought to the islands accidentally.  The Academy was just visited by Dr. Rowland Shelley, a specialist on millipedes from the North Carolina State Museum, who had a look at some of our critters.  He and his colleague, Dr. John Lewis of the UK identified these but, more exciting, the one pictured below.

Otostigmus productus DLin phot- GG II

This is a different species that was originally described from São Tomé over 120 years ago.  It is thought to also occur in West Africa; if this is the case, O. productus  is not an endemic species but it is probably naturally occurring.

Photo shoot on Sao Tome. Dong Lin, Fabio Penny and Ricka Stoelting -RCD GGI

Ricka Stoelting (above at right), my grad student and GG I participant, is putting the finishing touches on her manuscript on the fabulous São Tomé, “cobra bobo.” After submitting it for publication, she will pursue her PhD at the University of Wisconsin.

Schistometopum thomense – Weckerphoto, GG III

Ricka’s research has shown that this remarkable legless amphibian, Schistometopum thomense is indeed a true endemic species, having gotten to the island by natural means.  By studying the genetics of these bright yellow burrowers, she has learned that there are two different genetic groupings of the caecilian on the island and this is possibly related to volcanic activity within the last million years.

Principe Jita. Lamprophis sp. Weckerphoto GG III

Our snake project on “cobra jita” (Lamprophis – see earlier blogs) is ongoing; my intern, Lisette Arellano (below) has returned from the University of California, Santa Barbara and is working down in our molecular lab as I write.  Last summer we learned that although they are very similar in appearance, the snakes on São Tomé and Príncipe are genetically distinct from one another based on Lisette’s analysis of the cytochrome b geneWe think that analysis of an additional nuclear gene will be useful.

Lisette Arellano at the Academy.  RCD

The big issue lies with the status of jita’s relatives on the mainland.  While we are now reasonably sure that the two island populations are separate species, we do not know what their relationships are to the at least 12 species of Lamprophis distributed widely in Africa; it is possible that either or both of our island snakes could belong to one these mainland species. Unfortunately  the relationships (systematics) of this whole group in Africa are poorly understood.  Dr. Chris Kelly of Rhodes University who is working on the entire complex has kindly sent us a number of tissue samples of Lamprophis from some West African localities, and these are what Lisette is analyzing now.  In June, Lisette is off to the University of Colorado to pursue her PhD.  Hopefully, we will have figured out our island snakes by then.

Dana Carrison off Principe.  Pola-Perez phot.  GG III B

Dana Carrison is an MSc candidate at San Francisco State University and was part of marine phase of GG III (see Send In the Marines).  She is the graduate student of Dr. Bob Van Syoc, a participant of both GG II and III marine expeditions.  Dana is nearing completion of her research on the barnacles she and Bob study and has this to say:

“The Gulf of Guinea II and III expeditions have led to the discovery of two new species of symbiotic barnacle of the genus, Conopea, originally described from the Straits of Gibraltar by Ellis in 1758. I have been using molecular and morphological methods to describe these new species and compare them with their closest barnacle relatives. I have also been comparing species of gorgonian coral with species of barnacle to see if there’s any sort of settling preference. So far I think that one of the new species of barnacle is found only on a singe species of gorgonian and the other is not.”

I should mention that the gorgonians to which Dana refers are studied by Dr. Gary Williams, also a Gulf of Guinea veteran of two expeditions.  Here are Dana’s new species:

Conopea new species #1   phot. D. Carrison

Conopea new species #2  D. Carrison phot

More anon and before our return to the islands.

Here’s the parting shot:

Chaplin, Executive Director, BomBom Island, Principe. Weckerphoto GG III

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.