Galapagos frigatebirds, a distinct species?


This video says about itself:

Magnificent Frigatebird

A male in a colony, displaying. Seymour, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

From ScienceDaily:

Researchers Find Differences Between Galapagos and Mainland Frigatebirds

(Sep. 28, 2010) — Although the magnificent frigatebird may be the least likely animal on the Galapagos Islands to be unique to the area, it turns out the Galapagos population of this tropical seabird may be its own genetically distinct species warranting a new conservation status, according to a paper by researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the University of Missouri-St. Louis published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Galapagos Islands, which once served as a scientific laboratory for Charles Darwin, boast a number of unique plant and animal species, from tortoises to iguanas to penguins. Magnificent frigatebirds, however, can fly hundreds of kilometers across open ocean, suggesting that their gene flow should be widespread and their genetic make-up should be identical to those of the magnificent frigatebirds on the mainland coast of the Americas. Even Darwin predicted that most Galapagos seabirds would not be very different from their mainland counterparts. But researchers at SCBI conducted three different kinds of genetics tests and all yielded the same result — the Galapagos seabirds have been genetically different from the magnificent frigatebirds elsewhere for more than half a million years.

“This was such a surprise,” said Frank Hailer, a postdoctoral research associate at SCBI and lead author of the paper. “It’s a great testimony to just how unique the fauna and flora of the Galapagos are. Even something that is so well-adapted to flying over open oceans is isolated there.”

Scientists began the research to determine whether the magnificent frigatebird on the Galapagos was more similar genetically to the magnificent frigatebirds on the Caribbean side or the Pacific side of the islands. Using frigatebird samples from Betty Anne Schreiber at the National Museum of Natural History, Iris Levin and Patricia Parker at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and those they collected in the field, SCBI researchers determined that the Galapagos version differ not only genetically, but also morphologically.

Now scientists are left with a number of questions: Are the genetics of the magnificent frigatebird on the Galapagos different enough to classify it as a distinct species? And what, exactly, accounts for the genetic and morphological differences when the seabirds can travel far and wide and therefore should not be isolated to one area to reproduce? SCBI and National Museum of Natural History researchers plan to collaborate with others in the field to find the answers.

What is clear, however, is that this small population of genetically unique magnificent frigatebirds is a vulnerable population. Any catastrophic event or threats by humans could wipe out the approximate 2,000 magnificent frigatebirds that nest on the Galapagos Islands.

“The magnificent frigatebirds on the Galapagos are a unique evolutionarily significant unit, and if the Galapagos population did go extinct, the area will not likely be recolonized rapidly by mainland birds,” said Robert Fleischer, head of SCBI’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics and one of the paper’s co-authors. “This emphasizes the importance of protecting this small population of birds there.”

Magnificent frigatebirds are currently considered of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but the Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper recommends that, because of the genetic uniqueness of those on the Galapagos, this status be revisited.

Think of it as Habitat for Penguinity. A University of Washington conservation biologist is behind the effort to build nests in the barren rocks of the Galápagos Islands in the hope of increasing the population of an endangered penguin species: here.

Theorists have estimated that around 90% of the bird species which have become extinct in recent years were island species: Birds at Risk of Extinction: Why are Island Species Vulnerable? Here.

This is a Brown noddy, Anous stolidus, sitting on the head of a Galápagos brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis urinator. The noddy is harassing the pelican to give up its meal of freshly caught fish, a behaviour known as kleptoparasitism (literally, parasitism by theft). Brown noddies are capable of catching their own meals, but will resort to kleptoparasitism when the opportunity arises: here.

Sea Shepherd steps up the fight against poachers in the Galapagos Islands: here.

PHOTOS: Unique animals of the Galapagos: here.

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5 thoughts on “Galapagos frigatebirds, a distinct species?

  1. World War Two bombs found on Galapagos Islands

    27 Oct 2010 01:32:07 GMT

    Source: Reuters

    * Fishermen discover a dozen buried devices

    * Official say they pose no threat to public

    QUITO, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Fishermen have found a dozen bombs believed to be from World War Two buried on the Galapagos Islands, a local government official said on Tuesday.

    The bombs were found on Bartolome Island, one of the Galapagos group located about 600 miles (966 km) off South America’s northwestern coast.

    The islands are a province of Ecuador, which let the United States set up a military base on one, Baltra Island, during World War Two due to its strategic location southwest of the Panama Canal.

    Luis Martinez, chief of operations for Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, told Reuters that the bombs posed no danger to the public but that the Ecuadorean navy had been informed as a precaution.

    “This military equipment that was found dates from the Second World War and was buried. It was not in sight of the beaches, nor close to them,” Martinez said.

    He said the authorities were considering making a more thorough search of the area on Bartolome Island in case there were any other wartime explosives to unearth.

    The volcanic Galapagos Islands are visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world every year thanks to their vast array of native species, many of which are endangered.

    British naturalist Charles Darwin developed his evolution theory in the 19th century after studying the wildlife there. (Reporting by Santiago Silva; Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Jim Marshall)

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