Charles Darwin’s complete Galapagos library posted online


This video says about itself:

11 November 2011

A classic example of evolution on Daphne Major Island in the Galapagos. Natural selection works on beak size variation of Darwin’s Finches.

From ars technica:

Darwin’s complete Galapagos library posted online

404 volumes kept on board the Beagle join the giant Darwin Online repository.

by Sam Machkovech – July 16 2014, 10:40pm +0200

Charles Darwin‘s massive ship library, including astounding drawings of species from far-off lands, meant he rarely had to come above-board while sailing on the Beagle in the 1830s.

Charles Darwin’s five-year journey to and from the Galapagos Islands ended in 1836. While that was over two decades before the publication of On the Origin of Species, he credited his time on board the Beagle as a formative experience for his theory of evolution. That extended trip wasn’t only spent studying local wildlife, especially during lengthy voyages at sea to and from home—Darwin also devoured a library of more than 400 volumes of text.

While many of those books were referenced in his later research, they were not preserved as a collection once the Beagle returned to England, leaving a gap in our understanding about the books and studies that kept Darwin’s mind occupied during such an historic era. Now, thanks to the painstaking efforts of a two-year Beagle project funded by the government of Singapore, that complete on-ship library has been transcribed and posted at Darwin Online, the world’s largest repository of Darwin-related texts and writings.

The library, which was stored in the same cabin as Darwin’s bed and desk during his journey, totaled out at 195,000 pages by the time researchers at the National University of Singapore assembled the full collection (and these weren’t exactly picture books, with only 5,000 corresponding illustrations). The complete list is quite astounding, made up of atlases, history books, geology studies, and even a giant supply of literature. Darwin also enjoyed a few books in French, Spanish, and German, along with a book in Latin about species and a Greek edition of the New Testament.

Historians and fans can read and perform text searches of the fully transcribed library. But if you’re pressed for time, we strongly encourage you to at least skim through the collection of gorgeous illustrations.

Explorer Thor Heyerdahl born 100 years ago


This video from Oslo in Norway is called The Kon-Tiki Museum.

From the Norway Post:

Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo celebrates the 100th anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s birth

Amazing new exhibition and activities in Norway and abroad as the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo celebrates the 100th anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s birth

When the famous Norwegian adventurer, scientist and communicator Thor Heyerdahl died on 18 April 2002 it made headlines around the world. No Norwegian celebrity’s death has received as much coverage before or since. He had become world famous 55 years earlier thanks to his legendary Kon-Tiki expedition and photos of Thor Heyerdahl and his crew together with the USA’s President Truman outside the White House.

The photos and the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition were everywhere. Naturally, interest did not decline when the film about the expedition won the Oscar for best documentary and the book sold by the millions. It has since been translated into 72 languages. During these years, Thor Heyerdahl retained his world celebrity thanks to new expeditions that were loved by the entire world, but also strongly criticised by academia.

He followed up the Kon-Tiki expedition with other spectacular expeditions on the reed boats Ra and Tigris. His recreations of prehistoric voyages showed that early man had mastered sailing before the saddle and wheel were invented. His reputation as a scientist was consolidated through his archaeological excavations on the fabled, mysterious Easter Island. Curiosity was Thor Heyerdahl’s driving force. Thor Heyerdahl’s archives at the Kon-Tiki Museum have now been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. Much of this archive is now on display in the Kon-Tiki Museum’s new library exhibition, which opened in April this year.

The Kon-Tiki Museum is celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth with a new, upgraded exhibition. There will also be a touring exhibition, accompanied by lectures and films, which will travel around Norway and abroad: Russia, the UK, Italy, the US, Canada, Spain, Armenia, Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania and Estonia. The ‘Thor Heyerdahl 1914 – 2014′ exhibition portrays Thor Heyerdahl’s life and best known expeditions on large posters through text and photos. At the Kon-Tiki Museum the Kon-Tiki raft has been fitted out as it was on its voyage across the Pacific Ocean in 1947.

Upgraded Kon-Tiki exhibition – Kon-Tiki sails again

The exhibition is our most comprehensive yet and has a special section for children. A new exhibition, ‘The Tiki Effect’, tells the story of how the names Kon-Tiki and Aku Aku (Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition to Easter Island in the 1950s) became buzzwords from the 1950s to the 1970s, with bars, restaurants, music and fashion named after Kon-Tiki and Aku Aku. Even Walt Disney adopted the idea in Disneyland and the well-known pop group The Shadows had a hit with a song called Kon-Tiki.

This music video is called The Stranger ~ Kon Tiki – The Shadows.

The Galapagos expedition – new exhibition

Thor Heyerdahl believed that South American Indians could have sailed from Peru and Ecuador to the Polynesian islands. He proved this was feasible with the Kon-Tiki expedition.

“Why did no Indians visit the Galapagos Islands?” asked his opponents, who claimed that there were no clear signs that South American Indians had visited the Galapagos Islands. Thor Heyerdahl took this as a direct challenge. He quickly organised a small expedition with three archaeologists. Within two months, after digging in five locations on Floreana, Santa Cruz and Santiago, the three men had collected more than 1,988 pieces of pottery, one pottery flute, four pieces of flint, one piece of obsidian, and two other artefacts that proved the islands had been visited in both historic and prehistoric times.

Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands now has its own exhibition at the museum where kids can also learn how an archaeologist works.

Cave stone sculptures from Easter Island

When Thor Heyerdahl was on Easter Island in 1955-1956 he learned that there were old family caves that were passed down through the generations. Thor Heyerdahl became the first outsider, from a country far away over the sea, who was allowed to see a family cave on Easter Island. The sculptures he found here depicted a wide variety of subjects, from people and mammals to birds, fish, insects and molluscs. There were skulls carved in stone, animals with human heads, faces with beards, a hook-beaked birdman and models of reed boats. Thor Heyerdahl was given some of the cave stones by the local population and he bought others.

Since then, the 900 cave stone sculptures have been stored at the Kon-Tiki Museum, inaccessible to the general public until this summer in 2014. Some of them are old, while others were probably made while Thor Heyerdahl was on Easter Island in 1955-1956.

More exhibitions about Thor Heyerdahl the scientist, environmentalist, adventurer and artist will open in the autumn of 2014. There will also be a new exhibition about the fantastic voyages across the Atlantic Ocean on Ra and RA II, both named after the Egyptian sun god.

Bloodthirsty finches on the Galapagos islands


This video say about itself:

In the Galápagos, when there’s no food to be found, the sharp-beaked ground finch adapts with a bloodthirsty appetite. Their target: nearby seabirds called boobies.

From Wired.com:

Absurd Creature of the Week: The Tiny Blood-Slurping Bird That Terrorizes the Galapagos

By Matt Simon

07.04.14

The Galapagos Islands are as beautiful as they are unforgiving. Patrick Watkins could have told you as much when his captain rudely marooned him there in 1805 for acting like an ass. According to legend, mostly coming from Watkins himself, he managed to scrape by alone on the island, trading vegetables with passing ships for grog. He’d then tie on a good drunk, and the crews that intermittently landed would find him sunburned and ragged and raving, a menace no captain in his right mind would volunteer to rescue.

Watkins, though, wasn’t the only terror on the Galapagos. You see, Wolf Island, an often brutally dry rock in the archipelago, is ruled by vampires—hordes and hordes of tiny vampires. These are the so-called vampire finches, enterprising critters in a brutal environment that have figured out how to nip at the tail feathers of other birds until they draw blood, somehow without their victim putting up much of a fight. Even though they don’t sparkle or battle werewolves or whatever, they’re marvels among the many marvels that are the famed Darwin’s finches.

Ken Petren, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Cincinnati, landed on Wolf Island in April to study these remarkable vampires, actually a subspecies of the sharp-beaked ground finch, and didn’t even lose his mind and eventually throw his colleagues overboard. “I could say that I was pretty skeptical of the whole vampire finch thing, having heard about it and realizing that there’s not a ton of data on it, mostly just some observations,” he said.

But what he found was far more macabre than the typical recorded accounts of vampire finches pestering the living daylights out of adult boobies. “On this island they really seem to be purposefully going up to a booby chick in the nest,” Petren said, “and they peck at the base of their tail where they have oil glands, and they make it bleed and they drink the blood.”

Even more menacing, they have a habit of gathering in mobs for such endeavors, watching each other intently to learn how to be unimaginably annoying for the rest of their lives. And although Petren saw them swarming dead chicks, he hesitates to conclude that the finches were responsible for the deaths. Life in this hot, dry environment is tough, so mortality rates for seabirds are quite high as it is, and he has no direct observations of finches actively hunting the babies.

Turtle, shark migration from Costa Rica to Ecuador


This is called Sea Turtle Migration Video.

From Wildlife Extra:

First evidence of an important marine migration corridor between Costa Rica and Ecuador

Sanjay, a 53k (117lb) male endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas agassizii), recently made history when he completed a 14-day migration from the Cocos Island Marine National Park in Costa Rica to the Galapagos Marine Reserve in Ecuador.

Sanjay is the first turtle to directly link these two protected marine areas, proving the connectivity of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, as well as highlighting the importance of protecting migration routes.

“It’s truly remarkable,” said Alex Hearn, conservation science director for the Turtle Island Restoration Network, based in California.

“Sanjay knew where he was headed, and made a beeline from one marine protected area to the next.

“These protected areas of ocean are hot spots for endangered green sea turtles, but we also need to think about their migratory corridors between protected areas.”

Sanjay was one of three green sea turtles tagged at Cocos Island in June during a joint 10-day research expedition by the Turtle Island Restoration Network and Programa Testauracion de Tiburones y Tortugas Marinas (PRETOMA) of Costa Rica.

Since 2009, the two organisations have tagged over 100 turtles and several species of sharks in a programme to understand how endangered turtles and sharks use the Cocos Island and Galapagos National Parks marine protected areas, and to see if their is biological connectivity between those new sanctuaries.

Sanjay is the first turtle to have been documented moving between these two marine protected areas and joins several hammerhead sharks, a silky shark and a Galapagos shark that have spent time at both of these reserves.

“Finally seeing a turtle move from Cocos Island directly to Galapagos is absolutely amazing,” said Maike Heidemeyer from PRETOMA. “Especially because preliminary genetic research results suggest that there is a connection between the green turtles at Cocos Island and the Galapagos.”

Green sea turtles, like Sanjay, play an important role in the Eastern Tropical Pacific ecosystem, but little is known about the geographic distribution of juveniles and males, despite the fact that nesting sites for female turtles have been identified in the Galapagos, mainland Mexico and Revillagigedo Islands, as well in the Northern Pacific of Costa Rica.

At Cocos Island, two different populations of turtles occur: the black-to gray coloured Eastern Pacific green turtles (also known as “black turtles”) and Western Pacific populations. Both populations are considered by some to be subspecies, but there is no official taxonomic division.

“These species are protected while they are in the reserves, but as soon as they swim beyond the no-fishing zone, they are being hammered by industrial fishing vessels that set millions of hooks in the region,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island, biologist and co-primary investigator of the Cocos research programme.

“Our goal is to collect the necessary scientific data to understand the migratory routes and advocate for ‘swimways’ to protect these endangered species throughout their migration.”

“The route that Sanjay followed is riddled with longline fishing gear,” said Randall Arauz of PRETOMA.

“Several international initiatives exist to improve marine conservation in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, and its time for these initiatives to translate into direct actions that ultimately protect these turtles from unsustainable fishing practices.”

Satellite, acoustic and genetic information is currently being analysed and will be officially published later in the year.

Sea turtle Sanjay is on the move again, the latest ping suggests that he is headed to green sea turtle nesting grounds at Isabela Island.

Sanjay’s migration track can be seen on this map.

Researchers have tracked a green turtle migrating nearly 4000 kilometers from its home. That’s a record breaker for the species, but it’s bad news for some marine protected areas (MPAs). Such zones are off-limits to fishing, yet they may not be keeping these turtles—and other highly migratory animals—safe, according to a new study: here.

Save Galapagos mangrove finches


This video is called Galapagos Mangrove Finches Nest.

By Christina Simmons, of the Charles Darwin Foundation:

First release of critically endangered mangrove finches into Galapagos forest

June 2, 2014

Biologists from the Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos National Park Directorate, and San Diego Zoo Global are celebrating the release of 15 mangrove finches into the mangrove forest habitat on the island of Isabela, Galapagos, Ecuador. This is the first time these critically endangered birds have been captive reared and released into the wild. The release of these birds is part of a new initiative designed to increase the wild population of the species.

“The mangrove finch is the most threatened bird species in the Galápagos, with an estimated population of only 80 birds,” said Francesca Cunninghame, lead scientist for the Charles Darwin Foundation. “This first season of the program has been a great success and we have increased mangrove finch fledging success by over 200%.”

In February, mangrove finch eggs and newly hatched chicks were collected from wild nests at Playa Tortuga Negra. The eggs and chicks were transferred to the Charles Darwin Research Station, Santa Cruz, for artificial incubation and hand-rearing. During March, the fledglings were transported back to Playa Tortuga Negra, where they were placed in pre-release aviaries to allow them to adapt to their natural environment. After four to six weeks in the aviaries, the first group of seven birds was released on April 20. This was followed by subsequent releases until all 15 of the chicks raised in captivity were freely exploring their wild habitat. “Until now, mangrove finch nestlings had a very high rate of mortality due to an introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi,” said Richard Switzer, associate director for San Diego Zoo Global. “By headstarting’ the youngsters through captive propagation, we have been able to protect this year’s hatchlings and improve the species’ chances for conservation.”

Going from captivity to the forest represented a big transition for the young finches. Time spent in the pre-release aviaries, monitored by conservationists, gave the young birds an opportunity to adapt to life in the wild. During this transition the mangrove finches were given a captive diet and also encouraged to search for naturally occurring food among the dead logs, leaf litter, tree branches, native fruits and black mangrove seeds in the aviaries.

“We are very encouraged by what we were able to accomplish with the mangrove finch this year and are hopeful that the hand-rearing program can help the species survive until the Philornis can be controlled,” said Beau Parks, a senior keeper on the San Diego Zoo team. “As zoo biologists, it is rewarding to see finches, which we had collected as eggs and then hand-reared, returning back to their forest habitat to boost the wild population.”

Before releasing the finches, tiny transmitters weighing 0.3 grams were attached to each bird, allowing the field team to monitor the bird’s survival and dispersal for up to 22 days. During this time, fledglings were observed foraging, interacting with their wild counterparts and dispersing over neighboring lava fields. Additionally, the aviaries remained open for several weeks after release and the team maintained a continuous presence observing birds that returned for supplementary food. As the birds became more independent, the frequency of their visits decreased.

“In order to reach our objectives the Environmental Authority always needs the collaboration of strategic allies who provide us with technical and scientific assistance,” said Arturo Izurieta, Director of the Galapagos National Park Directorate.

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Saving Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos


This video from the USA says about itself:

Help Protect Darwin’s Finches!

From the Northlands News Center in the USA:

Duluth native’s idea could help save Darwin’s Finches

May 26, 2014

Updated May 27, 2014 at 7:05 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) – A famous group of bird species has a Duluth native to thank for helping save it from a grim fate.

Darwin’s Finches, studied by famed researcher Charles Darwin, are a group of several bird species on the Galapagos Islands.

The birds had been dying from a parasite laid in their nests by flies. It was known that a mild insecticide could kill the parasites, but it was hard for researchers to get to the nests and apply the insecticide without disturbing them.

Then, Duluth native and University of Utah researcher, Sarah Knutie, had an idea.

“Female Darwin’s Finches were coming to my laundry line and grabbing frayed fibers off of the laundry line,” said Knutie, who had been studying the finches in the Galapagos as part of her dissertation, “[I thought] I wonder if I could spray cotton balls with this mild insecticide, present the cotton balls to the finches and allow them to take the cotton back to their nests and essentially kill the parasites themselves.”

Her idea worked. The researchers found that the insecticide-treated cotton lowered the number of parasites in the Finches’ nests.

While Knutie says this is a short–term solution, it is progress in what biologists say could become a very serious problem.

“Very unique organisms live there [the Galapagos Islands] that aren’t found any place else on earth,” said University of Minnesota Duluth biology professor, Dr. Timothy Craig, “It would be a real loss in a lot of ways if we lose one of those species.”

Knutie is nearing the end of her PhD work at the University of Utah and has a job at the University of South Florida as a post–doctoral researcher.

She hopes to one day be a professor.

Jennifer Austin

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Ecuador amazon parrots, new study


This video is called Parrot Clay Lick at Yasuni National Park, Amazon, Ecuador.

From the BBC:

23 May 2014 Last updated at 16:44 GMT

Study offers snapshot of rare Ecuador Amazon parrot

By Mark Kinver Environment reporter, BBC News

UK researchers that headed to South America to learn more about one of the world’s rarest parrots have returned with “more questions than answers”.

A team from Chester Zoo spent three weeks studying Ecuador Amazon parrots.

The parrot was only reclassified as a species in its own right in December, before which it was deemed to be a subspecies of a common group of birds.

Only 600 individuals are estimated to remain in the wild, prompting the new species to be listed as Endangered.

“The truth is that we came back with far more questions than answers,” explained expedition leader Mark Pilgrim, director general of Chester Zoo.

“Suddenly, there are a whole number of things that we didn’t expect and we now have questions about.”

One example was how the birds chose their roosting sites amid the mangroves of Cerro Blanco, located along the coast of western Ecuador.

“We knew from literature from our previous visit that the parrots roosted in the mangroves and flew to the dry forests to feed,” Dr Pilgrim told BBC News.

“The assumption was that they did that to protect themselves from predators that were not found on the mangrove islands, but they fly very far out into the mangroves.

“Shrimp farms use bird scaring devices, which are designed to frighten the herons and shore birds and stop them eating the farms’ stock.

“So is this affecting [the parrots'] behaviour? We don’t know.”

Lovesick parrots?

The study also raised questions about the birds’ breeding behaviour.

Based on data from earlier surveys and literature, the researchers assumed that they would be monitoring the parrots during the breeding season.

“However, we did not find any proof that they were breeding at that time,” explained Dr Pilgrim.

The team monitored the daily flights made by the parrots from the mangroves to the dry forests, and the return journey at the end of each day.

“One of the methods used to assess how many of the birds are breeding was to count how many single birds were making the flight.

Although the birds fly in large groups, Dr Pilgrim said it was relatively easy to spot pairs within the group. During the breeding season, it had been assumed that females did not leave their nests in the dry forests because they were incubating eggs or feeding chicks.

“So during the breeding season, you get a higher proportion of single birds travelling back to the mangroves than you do during the non-breeding season,” he suggested.

However, the team only recorded 11% of the birds in flight as “singles”.

“That could suggest that as few as 11% of the population were reproducing, which seems very low,” he observed.

However, Dr Pilgrim said that there was not 100% certainty that when the female is on the eggs in nests within the forest that the male still travels back to the mangroves.

“Maybe not all of them do travel back; maybe some of them stay in the forests in close proximity or share the nest with the female,” he said.

“So while there is some concern, there is still a lot to do before we can make clear and bold statements about what is happening there.”

Double-edged sword

But he added that there were some clearly positive aspects, as far as the remaining habitat was concerned.

“The dry forest area of Cerro Blanco appears to be extremely well protected; there is certainly a lot of ranger activity,” he said.

“All the time we were in the forest, we did not come across a lot of people who could be potentially poaching or tree felling.

“In that sense, it is very reassuring that the area appears to be well protected.”

Although a vast majority of the nation’s mangrove habitat was destroyed in the past to clear the way for shrimp farms, Dr Pilgrim said that the remaining sites were very well protected.

However, he added: “The estimated total population for this species is about 600. But the sub-populations are less than 250 birds. So, based on our findings, the IUCN is now classifying the birds as an endangered species.”

He acknowledged that the classification could be considered as a double-edged sword.

Although its continuing existence on the planet was uncertain, it did mean the species would be considered as a conservation priority, attracting resources.

Before the Ecuador Amazon parrot (Amazona lilacina) was recognised as an individual species, it was considered to be a subspecies of the four-strong Amazona autumnalis group that had a combined population of about five million, meaning it was not deemed to be a conservation priority.

Dr Pilgrim said that plans were in place to repeat the Cerro Blanco survey every third year in order to build up a long-term dataset that would allow researchers to monitor the parrots’ population dynamics.

He observed: “The forest is protected, the mangrove is protected, there does not appear to be a huge amount of nest predation from people, so – in that sense – there is nothing drastic going on that is threatening them right now.”

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New Ecuadorian wasp species named after Ellen Degeneres, Shakira


This video from the USA says about itself:

The Evolution of Wasp Wings

20 February 2012

What does the evolution of wasp wings tell us about human genetics? University of Rochester Professor of Biology John Werren explains how research into changes in the shape of wasp wings can lead to a better understanding of human growth and potentially how to better treat diseases such as cancer.

From Wildlife Extra:

Singer Shakira lends name to a new mummy-making wasp

Twenty-four new species of Aleiodes wasps, the type that mummify caterpillars, have been discovered as a result of field work conducted in the Yanayacu cloud forests of the eastern Andean slopes of Ecuador. The findings of the team led Professor Scott Shaw from the University of Wyoming, USA, and Eduardo Shimbori of the Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil, was published in the journal ZooKeys.

Among the 24 new insect species described by Shimbori and Shaw, several were named after famous people including the comedian Ellen DeGeneres, as well as the Ecuadorian artist Eduardo Kingman, American poet Robert Frost, and Colombian singer and musician, Shakira.

This music video is called Shakira – Hips Don’t Lie ft. Wyclef Jean.

The Shakira wasp causes its host caterpillar to bend and twist in an unusual way, which reminded the authors of the singer’s famous belly-dancing. In a previous work, Shaw named a species after the US chat show host, David Letterman.

“These wasps are very small organisms, being only 4mm to 9mm long, but they have an enormous impact on forest ecology,” Shaw said. Aleiodes wasps are parasites of some forest caterpillars. The female wasps search for a particular kind of caterpillar, and inject an egg into it. Parasitism by the wasp does not immediately kill the caterpillar, as it continues to feed and grow for a time. Eventually, feeding by the wasp larva causes the host caterpillar to shrink and mummify, then the immature wasp makes its cocoon inside the mummified remains of its conquered prey.

When it completes its development, the young wasp cuts an exit hole from the caterpillar mummy and flies away to mate, and continue this cycle of parasitic behaviour.

“Killing and mummifying caterpillars may sound bad, but these wasps are actually highly beneficial insects,” Shaw says. “They are helping to control the populations of plant-feeding caterpillars naturally, so they help to sustain the biodiversity of tropical forests.”

Shaw will be telling more about the behaviour of parasitic wasps and other insects in his forthcoming book, Planet of the Bugs, due to be published by the University of Chicago Press in September.

See also here.

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Galapagos islands, evolution and sea levels


This video says about itself:

How Have Sea-Levels Influenced Evolution on the Galapagos Islands?

This movie is a simple 0 m to -210 m geographical loop sequence at 5 m increments. Important features are the substantial gaps between Galapagos’ “core” islands even at -100 m. However, below c. -130 m the various islands begin coalescing.

Research: “Exploring the combined role of eustasy and oceanic island thermal subsidence in shaping biodiversity on the Galápagos” by Jason R. Ali and Jonathan C. Aitchison from the Journal of Biogeography.

From Wiley Research News:

The Galapagos Islands have an iconic status in the history of evolutionary study, now new research shows that the islands’ own geological past may have influenced the evolution of the chain’s native species.

Writing in the Journal of Biogeography, Jason Ali and Jonathan Aitchison explore how fluctuating sea level changes over thousands of years impacted the island chain’s ecology. They estimate that when the sea retreated, most recently 20,000 years ago, the water would have been 144m below its current level.

As a result, Santa Cruz, the island in the center of the archipelago, would have expanded, enveloping many of the smaller islands, while creating a series of shallow ‘land bridges’ between the volcanic outcroppings. Such bridges explain the range and diversity of the islands’ species, such as snakes, geckos and iguanas, which appear landlocked to modern eyes.

“As soon as I saw that that half the islands in the archipelago were sat on a single, shallow, submarine platform, I realized that the implications for biology could be significant,” said Dr. Ali. “My geological knowledge told me that sea-level falls must have regularly re-connected the islands, and that this must have profoundly shaped the landlocked biota’s distribution, and very likely its composition.”

Ecuador has declared an emergency in the Galapagos Islands, saying that a cargo ship which ran aground last week still poses a threat to the archipelago’s fragile ecosystem: here. See also here.

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Saving Galapagos giant tortoises


This video is called Giant Galapagos Tortoise (extreme closeup!)

From Wired:

Inside the Galapagos Islands’ Giant Tortoise Rehab Effort

By Jeffrey Marlow

04.16.14

10:24 am

You’re sailing from the Spice Islands across the open ocean to the South American port of Guayaquil, your financial motives rooted somewhere along a broad spectrum of morality and lawfulness. Several months have passed, and food stores and morale are low. Fortunately, you know a spot that will save the day, a cluster of rocky islands jutting out of the east Pacific near the equator.

For centuries, the Galapagos Islands have been a convenience store for ocean-going journeys, the resident Giant Tortoises serving as the perfect solution to the constant challenge of acquiring fresh meat at sea. These enormous beasts could handle the rigors of shipboard life and could be harvested at any time. Ships throughout the 18th-20th centuries would stop at the Galapagos, herd dozens of tortoises onto the decks, and sail off, assured of a reliable protein source for the remainder of their journey. At one point, an American whaling vessel lost track of a captive tortoise, which ambled out of the hold two and a half years later in Nantucket. Befuddled onlookers promptly killed it and made a stew.

And so, slowly but surely, the Giant Tortoise population was decimated. By the mid-1900s, conservationists began to recognize the problem, just as the increasing rate of international tourism and commerce was introducing another mortal threat to the species.

This one came in the form of fire ants, a voracious invasive species with a taste for baby tortoise. “Within 20 minutes of hatching,” says naturalist Ernesto Vaca, “they swarm and make the baby tortoise disappear.” Other human-transported pests, like rats, dogs, and cats, have developed similar dietary proclivities. With the species now facing a genuine threat to its survival, the Centro de Crianza was founded on Isabela Island, and conservationists went into crisis mode, airlifting tortoises with helicopters and initiating a breeding program.

It took a while to develop effective breeding techniques, but today, the Centro boasts a near-perfect success rate from egg to teenage tortoise. The rescue program continues in full force, as the habitat surrounding Isabela Island’s many dome-shaped volcanoes have been deemed unsafe for tortoises because of the fire ant threat. Employees and volunteers venture into the dense forest to retrieve tortoise eggs, which are then placed into computer-controlled incubators back at the Centro. The sex of the fledglings is determined by egg incubation temperature – above 37.5 °C leads to females, below produces males – allowing the Centro to generate its ideal ratio of 60% females and 40% males. Just before hatching, the eggs are buried in sand to simulate natural conditions and ensure that baby tortoises can dig upward and outward, a capability that bodes well for future robustness. Until the young tortoises are two years old, they’re placed in cages to offer protection against rats. By five, they’re in open-air enclosures, having received microchips that will track their movements once released into the wild.

And that, after all, is the ultimate goal, to repopulate the Galapagos with one of its most iconic species. Already, several hundred adults have been reintroduced to Espanola, an island particularly hard-hit by wave of threats over the decades. But the long-term prognosis is murky, especially as the invasive species that predate upon tortoises continue to grow in numbers. One option is to bolster the invasive species eradication efforts; another is that the animals will merely live the first few years of their lives in controlled conditions. But for now, the stabilization of the Giant Tortoise population is a victory in itself, a promising example of how conservation efforts can bring an organism back from the brink. As human impact on the unique Galapagos ecosystems increases, the model of tortoise rehab may prove useful in protecting other species from extinction, allowing the islands to maintain their unique treasure trove of biodiversity.

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