The Race: Updates and Progress in Paradise

The new header image of Príncipe Island from the east (above) was made by our friend, Jan Fourie, of Africa’s Eden; Príncipe is 31 million years old and was much, much larger in the Oligocene.

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Revisiting the famous “Bode of Bombaim” with cobra skin in hand, along with our indefatigable photographer, Andrew Stanbridge (left). This area of central São Tomé seems to harbor sizable numbers of forest cobras (Naja nigricollis), the islands’ only venomous snake species, thought to have been introduced by early Portuguese settlers. We have extracted DNA from Bode’s skins to test this hypothesis.

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3/4ths of the members of GG IX. Dr. Rayna Bell, UC Berkeley; Lauren Scheinberg, CAS; Maria Jeronimo, Gulbenkian U; and Dr. Luis Mendes, Nat. Hist. Mus., Lisbon. Absent are Roberta Ayres (CAS), Andrew Stanbridge, photographer and me (CAS).

Some more updates from GG IX: Dr. Luis Mendes is completing his monograph on the butterflies of the islands. He informs us that he collected about 400 specimens during GG IX. luis

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His collections represent 40 species of six families from both islands with new records and observations of endemics.

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Jim Shevock (above) of CAS, is a veteran of three past Gulf of Guinea expeditions, and has just published a sixth scientific paper on bryophyte flora of the islands. It is plain that the bryophyte flora of the islands is much more diverse than had been thought and Jim has many more species to be and new ones to describe especially. Jim will be a participant on GG XI in November.

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Dr. Rayna Bell (above left), now of the Smithsonian Institution, continues her work with the treefrog genus Hyperolius. The opportunity arose for us to sample the southern part of the Obo Natural Forest on São Tomé where, it turns out, the giant tree frog (H. thomensis) is much more easily found and observed. There are some intriguing biological issues involving genetic interaction between these two species which are so different in size and color (above right), and Rayna continues her studies of them and the giant tree frog (Leptopelis) of Príncipe.

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Drs Bell and Ricardo Lima in the forest of São Tomé, inland of Angolares.

On the academic side of things, the Island Biology Conference held in July at the University of the Azores on Terciero Island was a great success with over 400 scientists and students in attendance for a week. At the first such meeting held in Hawaii there were only two presentations on Gulf of Guinea science; in the Azores, we had a day-long symposium featuring talks on many aspects of island biogeography and conservation.

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Dr. Bell presents an amphibian paper at the Gulf of Guinea Symposium, Terceiro Island, Azores.

Such meetings facilitate useful interactions between scientists and students, allowing them to avoid overlap of effort and at the same time promoting cooperation; we were very heartened by the increase in the number of people doing research and educational activities on the islands.

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Drs Mariana Carvalho and Ricardo Lima discuss various São Tomé/Principe
projects (above). Both are authorities on forest ecology,  the Gulf of Guinea bird fauna and the interactions of human populations with the environment. After several years of work in Mozambique, Mariana is returning to the islands where she will continue her work under the auspices of Birdlife International. Ricardo was one of the organizers of the symposium.

In several previous blogs I have mentioned Hugulay Maia, a Sao Tomean from the town of Angolares on the southeast coast. We first met Hugulay years ago through his mentor and friend, Angus Gascoigne, an accomplished resident naturalist on São Tomé. Tragically, Angus passed away a few years ago; he would have been very proud to learn that Hugulay  is now pursuing PhD research on the coastal fishes of the islands.

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Hugulay diving on Príncipe, GG.X (left) and preparing specimens (right, with Dr.Ricardo Rocha (CAS), and graduate student,  Luisa Fontoura. (far right, U. Catarina, Brazil).

Maia was a member of the GG X marine team, as was his doctoral advisor, Dr. Sergio Floeter of University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. A few months ago in Lisbon (below), he presented part of his thesis work to the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, one of the major funders of his work on coastal fishes.

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Our next terrestrial expedition, GG XI will be in November and will be the topic of the next blog.

PARTING SHOT.

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Here at Praia Jalé in southeastern São Tomé is a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), one of several species of ocean-going sea turtles that breed on the islands annually. Looking on are our old friends Bastien Loloum, his wife Delicia and kids Flora and David. Bas said: “The nesting turtle got surprised by sunlight and was just finishing up [laying eggs] as we arrived by her side. The picture was taken by a German tourist who was also staying at the lodge that same night.” This is the world’s largest turtle and the 4th heaviest reptile (after 3 monitor lizards). These giants can reach 2.13m (just under 7 feet) with a mass of 650 kg (1433 lbs)!

 

PARTNERS.
The research expeditions are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* On the islands, we are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. GG VIII, IX , X and upcoming GG XI have been funded by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, and members of the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of our on-going primary school education program during GG VII and GG VIII.

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

 

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THE RACE: As the (Flat)worm Turns

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

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

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

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

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(Phot. Miko Nadel, GG VII)

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

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Planarian (Dugesia) . Stock photo, Google photos.

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Flatworm regeneration. (Univ. Heidelberg photo.

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

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

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

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

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[RCD construct-multiple photographers]

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parting Shot:

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

Partners:

The research expeditions and the primary school education program are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* We are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. GG VIII, IX , X and upcoming GG XI have been funded by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, and members of the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

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

 

 

THE RACE: GG X – “I Came for the Waters”

No apologies for the Casablanca reference!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While in the field, Dr. Rocha wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parting shot:

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

PARTNERS:
The research expeditions and the primary school education program are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* We are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. GG VIII and upcoming GG XI have been funded by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, and members of the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

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

THE RACE: Homage to “The Prince”

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

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

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(male)

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(female)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RACE: GG IX – RETURN TO THE BIG ISLAND

The seven members of GG IX all met up in the Lisbon airport on September 18 and arrived the next day in São Tomé. Two new collegues on this expedition are from Portugal. Dr. Luis Mendes, a butterfly expert from the Natural History Museum in Lisbon is finishing a major book on the butterflies of the islands and is checking certain localities for species that have not been seen for many years.

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Maria Adelina Jeronimo, a PhD candidate from the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal, also studies butterflies but specifically the genetics of certain novel morphological characters. Maria is a matter of months from finishing her doctoral dissertation.

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Dr. Rayna Bell has returned for her third trip and is continuing her studies of the interesting hybridization phenomenon that seems to be occurring between the two endemic São Tomé tree frog species, reported in a major publication earlier this year. She has also discovered that the little green tree frogs of Principe, while seemingly nearly identical to those of São Tomé, are in fact a separate species. This does not surprise us really; see earlier blogs on geckos and snakes!

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Rayna is being assisted by our third new member,  Lauren Scheinberg of the Herpetology Department of the California Academy of Sciences.

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Our brilliant (and very tall) photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, has joined us for the fifth time (also as co-leader).

The education team is, as usual, Roberta Ayers and myself, plus our long-time São Toméan colleagues, Roberta dos Santos, Anita Rodriguez and Quintino Quade Cabral. Maria Jeronimo has been assisting. A new cycle begins this year, starting again with third grade.

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There have been several interesting discoveries already. A couple of years ago we published a study of the giant geckos of the islands, describing a new species from Príncipe (Miller, et al, 2012). We suggested that the large endemic species of São Tomé, Hemidactylus greefi, was only found in natural settings, having been out-competed in the towns by common, widespread recent colonizers. During our first week the group found an adult Greef’s gecko at sea level on a door in Angolares, the second largest town on the big island. I suspect that if competition with widespread common immigrants accounts for the absence of this gecko in the capitol city, there must be fewer of the former in Angolares. This is understandable as Angolares is still quite small and is not by any means a port city; that has always been São Tomé city.

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As in every year, we went to the Olea tree at Macambrara (1100 m) to check on the known population of the giant São Tomé tree frog, Hyperolius thomensis. Long-time readers will recall that two holes in this enormous tree are the only place we have consistently found this colorful species. While we have conjectured that the giant tree frog must be widespread in the higher elevation forests (we can hear it call from far above in the canopy), we have been unable to find another locality or tree with appropriate breeding holes… until now!

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With our colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima of University of Lisbon, we were able to gain access to the primary forest above the huge southern oil palm plantation of Agripalma. At 350 m, above an abandoned roça called Monte Carmo, Bell, Scheinberg, Lima and Stanbridge found large numbers of the giant São Tomé tree frog breeding in pockets of water on fallen logs. This southern-most locality indicates, as we suspected, that this flamboyant frog is widespread in the relatively undisturbed forest and that while not restricted to high elevation (Macambrara), it does indeed seem to breed in pockets of water such as tree holes, rather than standing water like its close relative.

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Here, there appears to be no hybridization as the two tree frog species are separated by oil palm rather than less biologically hostile agricultural fields or plots. In fact, so far as I know, hardly any endemic vertebrates or native plants are able to survive in oil palm.

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This area is also the last bastion of a remarkable endemic bird, the Dwarf ibis, the smallest species of ibis in the world; it is severely threatened, both by hunting and by habitat destruction (oil palm). Notably, there are now two charismatic endemic species, a bird and a frog, endangered by human activities on this remote and fascinating island.

So far, this year’s activities have included working in a number of new localities including the central massif and in the far south. High in the mountains above Roça Agua Izé, one of the larger of the coastal colonial cacao plantations, we got our first decent view of a Giant weaver, Ploceus grandis. One of many endemic island giants on São Tomé and Príncipe, this colorful weaver is the largest in the world.

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As always, our educational efforts are aimed at raising the children’s awareness of the unique aspects of the island flora and fauna. We do not preach conservation per se. but rather try to show the young students how special their islands are and thus how special they are as owners.

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This year, each third-grader gets our coloring book about endemic bird species on both islands, a box of colored pencils and a pair of plastic binoculars (which work!!) These are not just handed out…. we present them personally to each student in each classroom, along with enthusiastic instructions for use, and the reasons  we come each year; we involve the students, the teachers, even school principals, and it is great fun. At the end, 10 of our stick-on logo patches are given to the teacher to reward good work. Each of us is involved at one time or another, as voices begin to suffer after 3 or 4 classroom visits.

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At this point, I must mention some wonderful folks who have been vital to the education effort this year: Alice and Wayne Settle conceived of and sponsored the acquisition of the small binoculars; Jim Boyer of the California Academy of Science once again produced a booklet that qualifies as a work of art, and help with producing the bird books is coming from the Príncipe Trust.

In the next blog, I will report on our progress on the smaller geologically ancient island of Príncipe.

Meantime, here’s the parting shot:

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All photos by Andrew Stanbridge

 

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

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

The RACE: SIZE MATTERS!

It is a fundamental tenet of the science of island biogeography that more different species of plants and animals will be found on larger islands than on smaller ones. When we say “larger” in this regard, we really mean surface area. Note that in the graphic illustration below right, both islands have the exactly the same circumference, but the lower island has a mountain in the middle of it which markedly increases any measure of its overall surface area.

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RCD construct.

The greater (and more varied) the surface area, the larger the number of niches for living organisms; hence with time and evolution there will be more living plants on animals on larger islands than smaller (above left). For “niches”, think of “jobs”; every living thing has a three-part job: 1. where it does what it does (spatial niche); when it does what it does (temporal niche) and how it gets its energy (trophic niche). No two living things can overlap on all three and coexist, hence size (area) matters! There are other factors of course, such as geological age and island distance from source, that affect the numbers and characteristics of species found on islands.

Our islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are classic examples of the area/species number relationship. Here are just a few examples:

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Begonia thomeana. T. Daniel phot. — GG

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African butterfly. Photo from  ARKives. Google Images

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New tree frog (Hyperolius) species from Principe Id. A. Stanbridge phot– GG VII.

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African dragonfly.  ARKive phot. Google Images.

The island area effect is even more convincing when the entire archipelago of four islands is included, from the largest (Bioko) to the smallest (Annobón).

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 Lacewing distribution in Gulf of Guinea. Dong Lin phot. GG I; RCD construct.

As one can see, there is an obvious correlation between island size and the number of lacewings present; however in this case it is also important to note that while Bioko is clearly the largest island, it is also geologically youngest and closest to the mainland, having been attached to the mainland multiple times during the Pleistocene. Such factors can have an important effect on these comparisons. While these correlations prove correct over and over again. However this does not mean that very small islands cannot house wonderful biological surprises, and we are learning that this is true in the Gulf of Guinea.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot, GG VII

Above is the Jockey’s Bonnet (or Ilha Caroço) so named for its obvious shape. This large rock is only about 3.5 km off the southeast shore of Príncipe, only 35 hectares in area but perhaps 100 m in height. It was undoubtedly once part of the main island, which readers will recall dates back to the Oligocene Epoch, so it is probably quite old geologically.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

Although small, the Jockey’s Bonnet houses at least two very intriguing species. The population of native oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) on the western shores of this tiny island have obviously been there for a long time as they have begun to accumulate change from the parent species on the main Island, but a few km away! While still clearly the same species, the Jockey’s Bonnet palms bear seeds (fruit) that is at least twice the size of the palms on Príncipe and São Tomé.

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Bonnet oil palm seed. RCD phot. CAS botany specimen

For bird lovers, an even more exciting occurrence on the Jockey’s Bonnet is that of the Bonnet Seed-eater, a small brown passerine bird noticeably different from its relatives only a few kilometers away on Príncipe!

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Bonnet seed-eater. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

These unique birds are heavier, have longer, broader bills and shorter wings than their island neighbors and have been shown to be genetically distinct from them. They are extremely common (some 3,500 individuals at last estimate) and live exclusively in the oil palm forest pictured above. They have a specialized diet of palm oil and palm pollen, and it is tempting to speculate that there might be some relationship driving the evolution of the palms and the birds.

Isolation and evolutionary change within a population of birds separated from their nearest relatives by only 3 km may well seem counter-intuitive; after all, don’t birds fly? The answer is yes they do, but they don’t need to, they often don’t, at least not long distances! Flying is energetically expensive; if the habitat is relatively stable, suitable for survival and reproduction, why leave it? In spite of their ability to fly, most bird species tend to remain in specific kinds of habitats and areas. This is called philopatry.

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Tinhosa Grande.  A. Stanbridge phot. VII

Far to the south of Príncipe (ca. 20 km.) is a fascinating group of small islands known as the Tinhosas. The largest of these is Tinhosa grande (above) with a surface area of but 20.5 ha.

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RCD construct

Geologically the Tinhosas are of great interest because they mark the southernmost limit of the Oligocene Príncipe of over 31 million years ago. As we have noted in earlier blogs, Príncipe was once much, much larger but through millions of years of weathering, largely from the southwest, all that remains are the Tinhosas and Príncipe, along with its other islets. And again, Principe is twice as old as São Tomé.

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RCD phots, GG I and II  (right – bridled tern)

The Tinhosas are important rookeries for some sea birds such as Brown and Black Noddys, the Sooty Tern and Brown Booby and are recognized by Birdlife International as Wetlands of International Importance and official Waterfowl Habitat.

Tinhosa Grande is also inhabited by at least two different kinds of lizards, a skink species and a gecko species. These were observed and photographed by members of a recent ornithological expedition but specimens were not collected. Our colleague, Dr. Luis Ceriaco, of the Natural History Museum in Lisbon discovered that some of these skinks had been collected by a Portuguese expedition and deposited in that museum 45 years ago.

CeriacoDr. Luis Ceriaco with Principe giant tree frog..  phot from Facebook.

After analysis, Luis discovered that the Tinhosa Grande specimens represented a new species which he has described as Trachylepis adamastor. It is a very large skink differing from its nearest relatives in size, scales and coloration.

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Tinhosa skink. (Trachylepis). Ross Wanless phot.

Members of the more recent bird expedition reported to Ceriaco that that the population of these skinks seemed very dense, and Ceriaco later speculated that there might be a trophic relationship between the numerous skinks and the nesting birds. Notice above that the skink is feeding on a recently broken egg (this photo appeared in the paper by L. Cericaco). Such relationships are not unknown.

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Cousin Island. Google images; bridled tern RCD image, Cousin habitat RCD image; Mabuya wrighti James Warwick image)

Cousin Island of the Seychelles Archipelago in the Indian Ocean exhibits a strikingly similar situation that has been well-studied. This small island of 27 hectares supports enormous populations of two species of skinks: Mabuya wrighti, which is large, and Mabuya seychellensis, which is smaller. Studies revealed that in 1979 there were approximately 1,713 individual skinks per hectare, and that these were supported directly by nesting terns (60,000 pairs of Lesser Noddy terns alone) through broken eggs, feces and dropped fish. Such a situation may well exist on Tinhosa Grande.

The Tinhosa gecko remains a mystery. We have no examples of it and cannot examine its morphology or molecular relationships.

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Tinhosa gecko. (Hemidactylus sp.) Photos by Nuno Barros, courtesy, Birdlife Int.

The photos are not of sufficient quality to determine whether this gecko is related to one of the unique island species (H. principensis, H. greeffii) or is a more widespread species.

We are preparing for GG IX in September. More anon.

The parting shot:

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A 4th grade Sao Tomean student with our biodiversity playing cards. A. Stanbridge 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 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: 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)

Principe, 2008

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