World’s largest canary studied


This 17 March 2015 video says about itself:

Inaccessible Island bunting (or Inaccessible Island finch) (Nesospiza acunhae) on Inaccessible Island in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, south Atlantic Ocean.

UPDATED: The Nesospiza name of the Inaccessible Island bunting is very similar to the name Neospiza, until recently the name of the São Tomé grosbeak, more to the north in the Atlantic. However, recent research says that grosbeak is not Neospiza, and the two birds are only very distantly related.

From Lund University in Sweden:

The world’s largest canary

June 21, 2017

Biologists at Lund University, together with their colleagues from Portugal and the UK, have now proven that the endangered São Tomé grosbeak is the world’s largest canary — 50 per cent larger than the runner-up.

The São Tomé grosbeak is one of the rarest birds in the world and can only be found on the island of São Tomé in the West African Gulf of Guinea. After the bird was discovered in 1888, another 101 years went by before it was spotted again by birdwatchers.

Until now, it has been categorised as Nesospiza — “the new finch” —

No, ‘island finch’. ‘New finch’ is Neospiza.

but new DNA analyses, performed by the researchers, show that it is a canary or seedeater of the genus Crithagra.

The São Tomé grosbeak is distinguished by its size (20 cm long), flat head and very large beak.

The island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe has never been attached to the mainland. Its 1,000 square kilometres contain a total of 28 endemic bird species. This can be compared to the 22 endemic species found on the Galápagos, which is 100 times larger.

Because the small islands have been isolated for so long, several species have evolved rapidly and distinguished themselves from their relatives on the mainland — a phenomenon known as the “island effect.” The seclusion of an island involves an evolution by which some species develop so-called gigantism — they become giants. The opposite evolutionary process — that animals become smaller — is also common.

São Tomé and Príncipe have been inhabited for more than 500 years, but have remained fairly intact. In fact, there is still no documented extinction of a species on these islands, although presently some species are critically endangered.

São Tomé and Príncipe new wildlife discoveries


This 2014 video is about the wildlife of Príncipe island.

By BirdLife:

21 Feb 2017

Discovering the remarkable nature of São Tomé and Príncipe

There are undoubtedly discoveries to be made, with the invertebrate and marine biodiversity of the archipelago particularly understudied. Each new expedition to the islands uncovers species new to science.

By Merlin Veron, Synchronicity Earth

Synchronicity Earth is a UK charity which, on the basis of its research, aims to identify and increase support for high-priority conservation action globally.

On first inspection, the São Tomé Grosbeak Crithagra concolor might appear drab, unassuming, maybe even unremarkable. But first impressions can be deceiving. It is in fact one of the most endangered bird species on the planet, and was not sighted for over 100 years between 1890 and 1991, when it was rediscovered in the forests bordering Rio Xufexufe in the south-west of São Tomé.

Sightings of this finch since its rediscovery have been intermittent – the species was only photographed for the first time in 2006 and to date has still only been seen by a handful of non-Santomeans. BirdLife estimates a tiny extant population ranging from 50-250 individuals.

As well as its rarity, the taxonomy of this species is also fascinating and distinct. The São Tomé Grosbeak may be almost unique amongst bird species in that genetic studies suggest it evolved in sympatry with the Príncipe Seedeater Crithagra rufobrunnea, another endemic species.

Sympatric speciation occurs where two separate species evolve from a common ancestor without being geographically isolated from one another. This could happen if, for example, environmental conditions heavily favoured large individuals and small individuals, but not medium-sized ones, thus driving the evolution of two differently sized species.

The São Tomé Grosbeak is in fact the world’s largest canary with a ‘bullish’ head and powerful bill which rivals that of a Hawfinch – it dwarfs the Príncipe Seedeater and is almost twice its size, however questions still remain over what exactly drove the separation of these two species.

In fact if there is something unremarkable about the São Tomé Grosbeak it is that it inhabits an archipelago awash with other astonishing flora and fauna. The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are located approximately 250km off the coast of Gabon, and as such have experienced somewhat of a ‘goldilocks effect’, in that they are close enough to the rich tropical forests of West and Central Africa to allow some populations to reach the islands, but distant enough so that once they do these populations become isolated and follow a distinct evolutionary trajectory.

Including the São Tomé Grosbeak there are a total of 28 endemic bird species on the islands, meaning a greater number of endemic species than the Galapagos Islands in an area approximately an eighth of the size. Amongst these species are the world’s largest Giant Sunbird Dreptes thomensis, Weaver Ploceus grandis and São Tomé Oriole Oriolus crassirostris, and its smallest Dwarf Ibis Bostrychia bocagei, a species which is also critically endangered and restricted to the primary forests of Obo Natural Park.

As well as endemic avifauna, the islands also harbour 1,230 described plant species, approximately 15% of which are endemic, as well as 19 butterfly species found only on this archipelago. The islands even hold 7 endemic amphibians, something which remains somewhat of a mystery considering amphibians’ known intolerance of salt water and the fact that as volcanic islands São Tomé and Príncipe were never connected to mainland Africa. There are also undoubtedly more discoveries to be made, with the invertebrate and marine biodiversity of the archipelago particularly understudied, with each new expedition to the islands uncovering species new to science.

The value of the biodiversity present on these islands has been recognised through a number of designations. Príncipe is recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, both islands host KBAs and IBAs where primary habitats remain, the Tinhosas Islands which host more than 280,000 breeding seabirds are recognised as a Ramsar site, and the presence and critically endangered nature of the São Tomé Grosbeak, the Newton’s Fiscal Lanius newtoni, and the Dwarf Ibis triggered the recognition of Obo Natural Park as an Alliance for Zero Extinction site.

These designations all point to the importance of conserving this archipelago’s remarkable biodiversity, however historically habitat loss, in parallel with other threats, has driven many of the islands’ species towards extinction. Habitat destruction was rife during the Portuguese colonial era, with the islands first a centre for sugarcane production, and latterly coffee and cacao.

Whilst this led to widespread forest clearance, the primary, secondary and even shade forests on the islands continue to provide key habitats, but face new threats in the form of illegal logging, agro-industrial concessions and residential and commercial developments.

However, one particular threat which continues to hamper efforts to conserve biodiversity is a lack of local conservation capacity and community engagement. This is something which BirdLife has partnered with NGOs working in São Tomé and Príncipe to address, recognising that conservation begins with local people.

BirdLife has had a presence on São Tomé since 2006, with the conservation of the three critically endangered endemic bird species a key focus, culminating in the production of a species action plan produced in collaboration with the Santomean Government and local NGOs. One key pillar of BirdLife’s work has however focused on developing the capacity of civil society and raising awareness amongst the local population of the unique and threatened status of São Tomé’s biodiversity.

Studies have shown the low level of environmental education in São Tomé, particularly amongst rural populations. To try to instil an awareness and sense of pride in the biodiversity which the islands harbour BirdLife has worked with Portuguese partner SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and the RSPB (BirdLife UK) to organise community meetings and collaborated with local artists to paint large murals of the critically endangered species in five villages.

Work is also underway in collaboration with Portuguese NGO Oikos to engage local musicians in producing a music and dance-based environmental awareness campaign celebrating São Tomé’s biodiversity and to engage with young people through a schools education programme and the establishment of nature clubs in the buffer region of Obo Natural Park.

The aim of these programmes is to increase awareness amongst the Santomean population about the importance of its biodiversity and the need for its conservation to protect livelihoods and environmental services. BirdLife hope to inspire future generations of conservation leaders on the island who can fill gaps in knowledge, identify key actions to protect species and ensure that the islands’ natural heritage is considered in decisions about its future development, meaning conservation is locally led.

Through engagement comes empowerment. This work is just one component of the activities needed to conserve São Tomé’s unique environment; and boosting local enforcement capacities, continuing to conduct scientific research to expand knowledge, and developing sustainable livelihood and development opportunities will also be integral.

However, where local people become engaged and invested in conservation, the future of enigmatic endemics such as the São Tomé Grosbeak will surely be more secure.

Dwarf ibis on São Tomé, new research


This video says about itself:

19 June 2014

The island of São Tomé is one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots, home to hundreds of species found nowhere else on the globe. But farmers struggling to make a living here are encroaching into protected areas. They cut down trees for firewood and clear land for crops, putting the survival of these species at risk. By working with these farmers to produce more sustainably, IFAD hopes to save this unique environment before it’s gone.

From BirdLife:

Unravelling mysteries for conservation of birds in São Tomé e Príncipe

By Obaka Torto, Thu, 11/09/2014 – 10:13

Quite a number of knowledge gaps have continued to hinder conservation efforts directed towards the threatened birds of São Tomé e Príncipe. Such has been the case for the critically endangered Dwarf Ibis (Bostrychia bocagei), only found on São Tomé island. Among others, the breeding biology of this bird has remained poorly described thus making it difficult to decide on conservation interventions required duringat this crucial stage in its life cycle.

Thanks to the efforts of the Association of Biologists Sãotomense (ABS) in partnership with BirdLife International, a team of researchers led by Hugulay Maia was able to describe some important aspects of the breeding behaviour of this bird. The results of their study conducted in 2009, have now been published in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the African Bird Club (Volume 2, issue number 2 published in September 2014). This discovery is significant for the survival of the species.

Deforestation in São Tomé seems to be  the threat to the reproduction of the Ibis, and the main cause of the bird’s extinction on the sister island of Príncipe.

The study was conducted at Monte Carmo, the southern part of the island of São Tomé, which currently has the largest oil palm plantation in the country. Like many discoveries, this finding happened accidentally during a research mission on a day of heavy rain. A healthy nest was discovered around an area undergoing systematic monitoring. The authors reveal that the discovery was made, thanks to the local community in Emolve (also called Ribeira Peixe), for their keen interest in bird  conservation. ABS has been conducting conservation activities with the local community since 2005.

Indeed Jose Correia, the ornithologist who led an expedition to the Gulf of Guinea would be happy to know that he was right when he observed a female in its reproductive phase in November 1928. This fact was confirmed 81 years later, with the discovery by ABS which occurred on 29 November 2009, showing that the breeding period of the ibis is from November to January. ABS has also determined that the bird lays two eggs per nest and that the male and female part ways during the incubation period.

Besides the research trying to unravel the ecology of the threatened endemic birds of SãoTomé e Príncipe, ABS has also been working with the communities of Angolares, Ribeira Peixe, Malanza, Dona Augusta and YoGrande, near the area where the ibis was found, to create their awareness of the need for biodiversity conservation.

In February 2014, an Action Plan for the conservation of threatened endemic birds was approved in an event  attended by members of BirdLife International partnership, the General Directorate of Environment, directors (of the Obo Natural Park in São Tomé and Príncipe), ABS, other NGOs and members of the local community. The plan describes measures that would make a difference in reducing threats to these birds.

In conclusion, in order to protect the threatened birds of São Tomé e Príncipe, it is crucial to solve the problem that jeopardizes their survival: deforestation and uncontrolled hunting. These two, currently constitute the greatest threat. Deforestation is believed to be the main cause of the bird’s extinction on the sister island of Principe, we must not allow it to happen on São Tomé as well.

São Tomé and Príncipe seabirds research


This video says about itself:

Academy researchers explain why Sao Tome and Principe are so special and extreme. Featuring Robert C. Drewes -curator in the department of Herpetology, and Roberta Ayers -Senior Educator at the California Academy of Sciences.
Check out the blog here.

From BirdLife:

Tinhosas Islands – desert island, seabird paradise

By nairobi.volunteer, Fri, 11/04/2014 – 07:00

São Tomé e Príncipe is a small tropical country known amongst birdwatchers and conservationists for its endangered secondary forests, and high level of bird endemism. However, the country also holds the most impressive seabird colonies in the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean – the Tinhosas Islands. These are two barren rocky islands around 12 km SW of Príncipe Island. They are named Tinhosa Grande, and Tinhosa Pequena, and are both remote and endowed with abundant seabird life. Three of five seabird species known to breed in São Tomé e Príncipe, namely Brown Booby Sula leucogaster, Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata, and Black Noddy Anous minutus, breed in Tinhosas, some in great numbers. The last assessment of the Tinhosas colony was completed in 1997, and since then accounts of exploitation of the birds for human consumption have raised concern about its conservation status.

BirdLife International sponsored a two-day expedition to Tinhosas islands, in order to conduct a census of breeding birds, and assess trends and threats. “We departed for Tinhosas in a quite misty dawn, and saw few birds en route, but seabird numbers increased massively as we approached Tinhosa Pequena. They were mostly ‘Wideawake’ Terns [Sooty Terns]”, said Nuno Barros, SPEA/BirdLife Portugal seabird officer, and one of the participants in the expedition. When on the scene, and after two days of seabird census in intense tropical heat and a night spent amongst large numbers of land crabs, the results showed that while some species registered a slight increase, others, like Brown Booby evidenced a steep decrease from the 1997 census figures. Caution must be used when interpreting these differences, for multiple visits within and between years should be performed, to census breeders, monitor threats and establish breeding phenologies  says Simon Vale, a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University, based in Príncipe at the time, and also an expedition member. Nevertheless, the massive decrease in Brown Booby numbers is a grave concern.

Tinhosas islands are an amazing wildlife spectacle, and a remote arid paradise for breeding seabirds, that deserve further investigation and safeguarding. As Dr Ross Wanless, team member and Africa Coordinator for the BirdLife International Marine Programme, explains “Although none of the species breeding there is globally threatened, this is the only seabird colony of any significance in the Gulf of Guinea, so assessing the populations’ health and protecting the colonies from human impacts is of great value.”

BirdLife International and the expedition team would like to thank Bom Bom Island Resort for logistical support for the expedition. Ross Wanless received some financial support for the expedition from the University of Cape Town.

Read the full report: Status and trends of the seabirds breeding at Tinhosa Grande Island, São Tomé e Principe.

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Saving São Tomé and Príncipe birds


This video says about itself:

6 April 2012

Academy researchers explain why Sao Tome and Principe are so special and extreme. Featuring Robert C. Drewes -curator in the department of Herpetology, and Roberta Ayers -Senior Educator at the California Academy of Sciences.

Check out the blog here.

From BirdLife:

Government of São Tomé e Príncipe unveils conservation plans for saving some of the most threatened birds in Africa

By Nairobi volunteer, Tue, 25/02/2014 – 06:56

The Director of Environment, Mr. Arlindo E Carvalho, on Monday 17 February 2014 launched the São Tomé e Príncipe International Species Action Plans for Critically Endangered bird species in the country. The plans will guide the government and other stakeholders in the conservation of threatened birds of the São Tomé islands.  The Plans were developed as part of a BirdLife initiative to ensure protection and conservation of priority forest habitats on São Tomé to reduce the extinction risk of Critically Endangered birds and benefit other globally threatened endemic biodiversity. The Plans focus on three Critically Endangered birds, namely Dwarf Olive Ibis (Bostrychia bocagei), São Tomé Fiscal (Lanius newtoni) and the São Tomé Grosbeak (Neospiza concolor).  A separate plan has been developed for the Príncipe Thrush (Turdus xanthorhynchus), another critically endangered bird found in Príncipe, and will be launched in the near future.

The islands of São Tomé e Principe are extraordinary in terms of the richness and uniqueness of the species found there.  They are one of Africa’s major centres of wildlife endemism (including 28 endemic bird species and many mammals, reptiles and plants). The forests on the islands have been classified as the second most important for biodiversity conservation in Africa.  Sadly, this exceptional biodiversity is under serious threats, mainly in the form of habitat loss and habitat degradation powered by agricultural expansion and intensification (mainly palm oil plantations). Another key threat is increased mortality from hunting for food by humans and predation by introduced species.

Read previous stories about São Tomé and palm oil plantations:

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São Tomé birds threatened by palm oil


This video is about São Tomé.

From BirdLife:

Fact finding expedition to São Tomé & Principe puts biodiversity hotspot on the map

Mon, Feb 4, 2013

SPEA maps palm oil company’s effect on local biodiversity

São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa, is probably one of the last unknown biodiversity hotspots in Africa. The country’s forests are home to 28 species of endemic birds, an extraordinary number considering the country’s size (the Galapagos, which is eight times bigger, has 22).

Habitat destruction, together with the absence of any census or monitoring schemes, are the country’s biggest threats. In 2010 the São Tomé and Príncipe Government signed a contract with Agripalma (a joint venture between the company Socfinco and the São Tomé Government), loaning a 5,000 hectare concession to plant oil palm. According to Agripalma, this size would be necessary in order to secure the profitability of this venture. Unfortunately, and according to SPEA’s (Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds, BirdLife in Portugal) previous visits, these 5,000 hectares include rich secondary forest zones located in the surroundings or directly within the Obó Natural Park. This Park covers one third of the island and is home to some of the most endangered birds of the world, such as the critically endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis Bostrychia bocagei, the São Tomé Fiscal Lanius newtoni and the São Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor.

If we are serious about preserving these iconic species while allowing a sustainable country’s development, we must act and we must do it now.

Following an assessment done in 2012, a joint mission this month led by SPEA and funded by RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), will arrive in São Tomé. Counting on the support of local ABS (Associação de Biólogos São Tomenses), SPEA’s biologist Nuno Barros will spend two months mapping all the areas currently affected by the Agripalma palm oil company. The results of these surveys will be made available to both Agripalma and the São Tomé and Príncipe government in order to inform further decision-making.

But SPEA’s objectives are not only focusing on the terrestrial species. With the support of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme, and counting on the vital sponsorship offered by Bom-Bom Island Resort, SPEA will lead BirdLife’s first expedition to the Tinhosas Islands.

This tiny archipelago, located 12 miles south-west of Principe Island, hosts more than 300,000 breeding seabirds, including Brown Booby Sula leucogaster, Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata, Brown Noddy Anous stollidus, Black Noddy Anous minutus and the White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus. Some other species, such as the Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus and Madeiran Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro, could also be breeding there, but so far has not been confirmed.

“We are very excited about this field-trip” says SPEA’s biologist Nuno Barros. “São Tomé and Principe is clearly one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, yet there is so much to be done in terms of data collection, monitoring and management, we really hope this will be the first of a series of projects, there is a lot of work waiting for us out there!”

Would you like to help SPEA and the Global Seabird Programme to carry out further research in both the tropical forests and the unknown seabird colonies of São Tomé and Principe? Please get in touch with Ivan Ramirez, European Marine Coordinator, BirdLife Europe on email: ivan.ramirez@birdlife.org.

New stinkhorn fungus discovered on African island


Phallus drewesiiFrom the California Academy of Sciences in the USA:

New species of phallus-shaped mushroom named after California Academy of Sciences scientist

Dr. Robert Drewes calls the naming of Phallus drewesii, discovered on the African island of Sao Tome, a ‘wonderful honor’

SAN FRANCISCO (June 15, 2009) – It’s two inches long, grows on wood, and is shaped like a phallus. A new species of stinkhorn mushroom, Phallus drewesii, has been discovered on the African island of Sao Tome and graces the upcoming cover of the journal Mycologia. The mushroom is named after Robert Drewes, Curator of Herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences, and is described in the July/August issue by Professor Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry of San Francisco State University.

Phallus drewesii belongs to a group of mushrooms known as stinkhorns which give off a foul, rotting meat odor. There are 28 other species of Phallus fungi worldwide, but this particular species is notable for its small size, white net-like stem, and brown spore-covered head. It is also the only Phallus species to curve downward instead of upward.

“The mushroom emerges from an egg and elongates over four hours,” says Desjardin, who is also a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. “Its odor attracts flies who consume the spores and disperse them throughout the forest.”

Desjardin and Perry named the new species after Drewes as an acknowledgment of his “inspiration and fortitude to initiate, coordinate and lead multiorganism biotic surveys on Sao Tome and Principe,” according to the Mycologia paper.

“It’s a wonderful honor and great fun to have this phallus-shaped fungus named after me,” says Drewes. “I have been immortalized in the scientific record.”

Phallus drewesii is not the first species to bear Drewes’ name. A small moss frog native to South Africa (Arthroleptella drewesii) and a blind worm snake from Kenya (Leptotyphlops drewesi) were described in 1994 and 1996, respectively.

Fungus living on ants: here.

Infection by the so-called zombie ant fungus dramatically changes the behaviour of tropical of carpenter ants causing them to die at a spot that has optimal reproduction conditions for the fungus, a new study has found. The multinational research team studied ants living high up in the rainforest canopy in Thailand: here.

Reports from BirdLife Species Guardians on São Tomé – a small island nation in the Gulf of Guinea – indicate that hunting is increasing and includes the Critically Endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis Bostrychia bocagei. A group of hunters were found with more than 90 São Tomé Green Pigeons Treron sanctithomae and at least one Dwarf Olive Ibis on 26 April 2011: here.

Expedition discovers animals of São Tomé and Principé islands


This is a video about the wildlife of Principé island.

From the California Academy of Sciences in the USA:

Puzzling Over São Tomé and Principé

A team of scientists whose expertise spans the animal kingdom has returned from the African islands of São Tomé and Principé with a comprehensive animal survey which raises some intriguing evolutionary questions.

How does wildlife reach volcano-born islands separated from the nearest landmass by 200 miles of deep ocean water?

It’s easy to imagine that some animals, such as the several species of bats, the eight-inch-long Greef’s gecko, or even the 13 species of lacewings that an Academy team of scientists brought back from the islands, flew, rafted, or got blown there by the wind.

The arrival of others, like the caecilian, a legless, burrowing amphibian that looks like a bright yellow earthworm, is more perplexing.

The caecilian is Schistometopum thomense.

Tucked back into their cozy laboratories, the scientists are now hard at work comparing these species to those on the nearby island of Bioko and the African mainland to try to piece together this evolutionary puzzle.

Their work is cut out for them: the group came back with thousands of specimens including the largest African tree frog (11 cm long) and a tree trapdoor spider, previously known only from one specimen collected in 1895.

Although hot and humid conditions made collecting a lesson in endurance, the survey was “hassle free,” according to expedition leader Bob Drewes.

From government officials to a young boy who helped the team find a type of frog that had eluded the team for five weeks, the islands’ residents were friendly and helpful.

See also here.

First record of Tardigrada from São Tomé (Gulf of Guinea, Western Equatorial Africa): here.