Project Description


São Tomé and Príncipe are thought to have been uninhabited until the Portuguese reached São Tomé in 1471 and Príncipe in 1472. European colonisation started during the fifteenth century and focused on slave trade and agriculture of cash crops as sugar, coffee and cocoa. It is known that a part of the flora – including the aforementioned cash crops – and fauna present on São Tomé and Príncipe were brought from other parts of the world. It is well-known that human arrival and human-mediated species introductions can significantly change island ecosystems, for example, by converting forests into plantation areas and species invasions. However, relatively little focus has been on legacy of human-environment interactions on the islands. Indeed, wtih formal biological research in the Gulf of Guinea only commencing in the late 19th century, there is no quantitative information on the islands’ vegetation before human colonisation – although some work from early Portuguese navigators provide insights into nature of the Gulf of Guinea islands and surrounding seas. Focusing on Príncipe, the Oxford Príncipe Project was the first to apply a deep-time perspective to study the environmental history of Príncipe, with a particular focus on forest biodiversity, links to human activity, and lasting effects in contemporary forest ecosystems.

Aim: to understand Príncipe’s environmental history, human-mediated environmental change and contemporary human-environment interactions on the island


Sediment coring at several different locations on the island including swamps and lagoons to reconstruct historical occurrences and distribution of local flora; indicative biodiversity surveys in forests surrounding the coring locations to understand the composition of modern forest habitat; interviews with local people to better understand the value of the natural environment to the people of Príncipe

Expected output

  • Historical overview of occurrences and distribution of local flora and environmental change
  • Short documentary on Príncipe’s human-nature connections


  • Oxford Príncipe Project – Bastiaan van Dalen (University of Exeter), Denise Swanborn (University of Oxford), Carla Fuenteslopez (University of Oxford), Sophia Carlarne (University of Oxford)

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