Galapagos islands tiger sharks, new research


This video is called Expedition Galápagos: Tiger Sharks.

Press release from OCEARCH:

First Tiger sharks in history of Galapagos Islands tagged

Wednesday, 19 February 2014, 10:53 am

First Tiger sharks in history of Galapagos Islands tagged, including 4-meter female named Yolanda captured in Canal de Itabaca – 66 fish, 8 species tagged in total

The Galapagos National Park Directorate, Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth collaborated with OCEARCH to complete its 18th global expedition – conducted in one of the world’s treasured marine resources, the Galapagos Islands. According to OCEARCH collaborating lead scientist and Science Director of TIRN,Dr. Alex Hearn: “We brought together a multidisciplinary team of scientists and the foremost marine megafauna explorers. We made use of the world’s only oceanic research lift platform, which allowed us to handle large sharks with a minimal amount of stress. Our research, which uses methods approved by the IACUC Animal Care Committee while I was a Project Scientist at UC Davis, and by the Galapagos National Park Directorate, accomplished so much in so little time – over 66 individuals and 8 species caught, tagged and released. We have spent years working towards this study – making the leap from a shark movement study to one of the entire pelagic assemblage.”

The first Tiger sharks in the history of the Galapagos Islands were tagged and studied, including a large 4 meter female that was captured in a canal where a Navy diver had been working was concerned with its presence. The shark was named after Yolanda Kakabadse Navarro, aunt of Pablo Navarro, an employee of Caterpillar, the primary sponsor of the expedition and OCEARCH. Yolanda is the current president of the World Wide Fund for Nature International (WWF), the former Minister of Environment for the government of Ecuador and the former president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She also founded the Fundación Natura in Quito and the Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano. Yolanda has dedicated her life and career to protection and awareness of the environment and environmental issues, not only in Ecuador, but worldwide.

“Tiger sharks are incredibly impressive animals, and I am excited to share my name with one. There have been serious population declines in some areas due to fishing for their fins for shark fin soup, which sadly is still seen as a delicacy in many places,” said Yolanda Kakabadse, President, WWF International. “Tiger sharks undertake incredible journeys, about which we still know remarkably little – so this tagging project will help provide crucial information for conserving these magnificent animals.”

Dr. Hearn described the discovery of the Tiger sharks after capturing tagging and releasing 27 other sharks: “Just before the end of our trip, we were approached by a concerned member of the Ecuadorian Navy to ask for help with a large tiger shark that they were frequently encountering whilst doing dive maintenance work. Thanks to this conversation, the Navy gave us permission to attempt to catch and tag the shark. We ended up catching all four of our tagged Tiger sharks at this site. From a perceived threat, these sharks became overnight conservation icons for the Galapagos community, and their movements will be followed simultaneously by the Navy divers, local schoolchildren, the National Park officials who witnessed the tagging, and the scientists involved in the study.”

“This is an important project for the management of the Galapagos Marine Reserve because of the immediate scope of migration data on individuals and aggregations of shark species,” said Arturo Izurieta, Director of the Galapagos National Park. “It’s a project that has been strengthened in recent years with contributions from conservation partners such as Charles Darwin Foundation, OCEARCH and the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador leading the process of generation of information applied to management.”

Hearn was pleased with the breadth of species: “In all 31 sharks were captured, tagged, sampled and released including 4 Tiger, 8 Hammerhead, 9 Silky and 10 Blacktip sharks. A total of 35 bony fishes were captured, tagged, sampled and released including 5 Yellowfin Tuna, 10 Wahoo, 10 Skipjack and 10 Rainbow Runners. This huge sample of open water fish from across the food chain will help us understand how marine protected areas around oceanic islands contribute to the conservation of the open water species assemblage as a whole.”

Swen Lorenz, Executive Director for the Charles Darwin Foundation attributed the success to collaboration and previously unavailable capacity: “The combination of CDF’s scientific knowledge and OCEARCH’s capacity to capture, handle and release large mature animals resulted in an extremely successful expedition where 100% of the research goals were achieved.” More detail from Swen on the expedition can be found on his blog post “Tagging a Tiger in the World’s Most Pristine Tropical Archipelago”.

Expedition Leader and Founding Chairman for OCEARCH, Chris Fischer commented: “We came here to serve the ocean, Ecuador and its people, the scientists and the Galapagos National Park. I am proud of the endurance and tenacity our team demonstrated. Furthermore, a shark that would have likely been targeted and killed as a nuisance or threat was instead tagged with multiple technologies so public safety officials, local residents and the science team can track its movements in near real time. The fear of the unknown is a powerful negative force that we hope to remove by replacing that fear with the facts.”

Dr. Pelayo Salinas de León of the Charles Darwin Foundation summed up the expedition: “Being able to work with Chris and all the OCEARCH team has been a unique experience and has allowed us to achieve all our research goals. Satellite and acoustic tagging the first adult tiger sharks and large Yellow Fin Tunas in the Galapagos Marine Reserve was a lifetime experience and it was only possible thanks to the OCEARCH unique platform. Thanks to this expedition we will be able to track the movements of these apex predators for the next 10 years to come. This research will provide very valuable information to further understanding our knowledge on the ecology of these key species and to inform the Galapagos National Park management plans. Also, we will obtain very accurate data on the regional migratory patterns of these species and this information will be very valuable to promote regional conservation actions through initiatives like the Eastern Tropical Pacific Corridor.”

David Acuña Marrero of CDF added: “OCEARCH has provided us with the best possible resources in the world to tag sharks: the most experienced and proactive team in shark’s handling and tagging, in a boat that performs perfect for this purpose. OCEARCH’s platform makes handling and tagging big sharks an ‘easy’ task, as we saw ourselves the last day of the expedition tagging a 4m beautiful tiger shark.”

Heather Marshall of UMass Dartmouth, working to collect blood samples for Dr. Greg Skomal of the MA Marine Fisheries for the study of stress physiology, said: “I was pleased to see, from initial analysis in the field, that stress indicators were not significantly exacerbated throughout the tagging process. Indeed, when the sharks were released, their stress response looked low across the board based on the initial data.”

“We envisage a series of peer reviewed publications arising from this research, including regional analyses of movement patterns of Silky and Tiger sharks using data previously collected on OCEARCH expeditions at Cocos Island, Costa Rica in 2011 and at the Revillagigedos Islands, Mexico in 2010. The science team expects to present its results at relevant international conferences, including the American Elasmobranch Society meeting in 2015”, adds Dr. Hearn.

Enabling local scientists to perform fieldwork is an important part of the OCEARCH mission. The organization is working closely with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) in every step – from planning to execution and data analysis. Ecuador is a member of the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific – a regional agency tasked with developing a regional Plan of Action for Sharks that integrates national plans, with a focus on transboundary species. The research team is part of a regional network (http://www.migramar.org), which has a seat on the CPPS Shark Committee. All relevant results and ensuing recommendations will be presented at meetings of this Committee and used in the development of the regional Plan of Action.

Outreach and education were core components of the expedition. Chris Fischer and the science team spoke at 2 local schools and 2 sharks were named after the schools: Oswaldo Guayasamin and Tomas de Berlanga, so they had their own sharks to follow. Tomas de Berlanga, Bishop of Panama, is credited with discovering Galapagos Islands in 1535. Oswaldo Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most famous painter and sculptor was a voice for the poor and dispossessed in Latin America, and received the UNESCO International Jose Marti Prize after his death in 1999.

The Global Shark Tracker is a web-based near real time satellite tracking tool for sharks that will eventually be expanded to other species. …

To stay updated on the daily activities, visit www.OCEARCH.org where you can see the daily Expedition Blog, experience the Global Shark Tracker and see all social media links.

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Galapagos tortoises and island ecology


This is a video of the Galápagos tortoise from the BBC’s Life in Cold Blood documentary series.

From Discover magazine:

We Discovered Too Late That Tortoises Are Expert Landscapers

By Elizabeth Preston | January 27, 2014 10:00 am

Countless biology students have dutifully learned to associate the Galapagos Islands with finches. Here Darwin noticed that birds on different islands had different beak shapes, and ta-da, theory of evolution. But galápago is Spanish for “tortoise,” and young Darwin also learned from watching these huge reptiles lumber across the archipelago. Today, the galápagos are only a fraction of their former population. And as they’ve disappeared, the landscape of the islands has transformed—because although Darwin didn’t know it, the tortoises were driving the evolution of an entire ecosystem.

The story starts before Darwin ever reached the Pacific island chain. So to get details from a time before naturalists were taking notes, Swansea University ecologist Cynthia Froyd and her colleagues searched a different set of records: fossilized tortoise poop.

There used to be 100,000 to 250,000 tortoises living and relieving themselves in the Galapagos. Those numbers dropped after European settlers arrived in the 16th century—the slow-moving giants were eaten, hunted for oil, and tormented by invasive egg-eating rats. By the 1970s their numbers had dropped to 14,000 or fewer.

Now Galapagos tortoises are being reintroduced to the islands. But has the ecosystem changed in their absence? Froyd wondered specifically about the islands’ highest points. These areas are mostly empty of tortoises today, even though the animals are known to travel to higher ground for water during the dry season.

Froyd took sediment samples at lofty bogs on the island of Santa Cruz. (This island is also called Indefatigable, like a tortoise climbing an 800-meter volcano.) These bogs are packed with moss, surrounded by lush vegetation, and frequently covered in a cold, thick mist called garúa.

The researchers scoured the ancient mud samples for fossilized fungus spores, pollen, and plant remains. At all three of their sample sites, they found “dung-affiliated” fungi—species that grow on the droppings of herbivores. This was a clue that a large plant-eater used to live and poop at those spots. Judging by radiocarbon dating, the animal had lived in the bogs for thousands of years, but disappeared around 500 years ago. Dung-rich areas were also full of plant pollen, as from the gut of a grazer. All signs pointed to the Galapagos tortoise, the only large herbivore around. (There’s also an “extinct giant rice rat” that could have left enough dung, the authors note, but it wasn’t known to hang out in swamps.)

When the researchers collected fresh tortoise dung and examined it in the lab, they saw similar patterns of fungus to those in their ancient samples. The same was true of sediment samples taken from a pond where tortoises still live today.

At the same time the dung fungi disappeared, about 500 years ago, certain plant species disappeared from the dirt samples too. The plants that vanished were those that prefer a muddy, churned-up environment—like the home tortoises would have provided as they trampled and sloshed through a wetland. Some of these plant species are now rare or extinct in the Galapagos.

All this evidence added up to tell a story: Tortoises used to cover Santa Cruz Island, from the coasts to the highlands. At the top of the island they wallowed in wetlands with open ponds or lakes. Here they drank, grazed on plants, and kept their bodies cool. Then, around the time humans settled on the island, the turtles left the highlands. It’s still not clear why—their reduced numbers from hunting may have meant less competition from other tortoises, and thus less need to travel for water. There might also have been a shift in the island’s climate that discouraged tortoises from hiking the volcano.

As tortoises left the wetlands, they filled in and became peat bogs dense enough to walk on. Other plant species that had lived there were choked out. Open, freshwater wetlands became rare all across the Galapagos. Charcoal found in the soil samples suggests that as tortoises munched away less of Santa Cruz’s plant material, fires may have become more common too.

Today humans are bringing tortoises back to the islands—though with 5 of the original 14 subspecies now extinct, those tortoises aren’t always the same ones that lived there in the past. The results at Santa Cruz show that just replacing the missing animals won’t turn back the clock. Globally, Froyd says, “we may be missing some of the impacts that past loss of large herbivores has had on ecosystems.” Conservation scientists around the world can learn from the tortoises that when even one animal species leaves, it may carry an entire ecosystem on its back.

When in the Galapagos, Charles Darwin and his Beagle chums ate a couple of dozen giant tortoises, tossing their empty shells over board en route to Tahiti. But in his Narrative of the voyage, captain Robert FitzRoy made it clear that a few small tortoises had survived. “Several were brought alive to England,” he wrote: here.

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Island lizards less scared of people


This video is called Marine iguanas of the Galapagos islandsBBC wildlife.

From Nature:

Islands make animals tamer

Lizard study supports Darwin‘s hunch that lack of predators leads to unwatchful behaviour.

Ed Yong

08 January 2014

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands, he noted that many of its animal inhabitants were so unafraid of people that “a gun is here almost superfluous”. He swatted birds with his hat, pulled the tails of iguanas and sat on giant tortoises.

These antics fuelled his famous idea that animals become tame when they live on remote, predator-free islands. Now, William Cooper Jr of Indiana University–Purdue University in Fort Wayne has tested Darwin’s hypothesis on 66 species of lizards from around the world and found that island dwellers tended to be more docile than their continental relatives — the strongest evidence yet for this classic idea. The results are published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B1.

Several studies and unpublished reports have shown that particular species are more approachable on islands where there are fewer predators, or quicker to flee on islands that contain introduced hunters such as feral cats. But despite this largely anecdotal evidence for island tameness, “no one has ever established that it’s a general phenomenon in any group”, says Cooper. “We showed that for a large prey group — lizards — there really is a significant decline in wariness on islands.”

Taming of the few

Island tameness is an old idea, but there have been few tests of it,” says Dan Blumstein, a behavioural biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This is a needed paper that convincingly shows some of the drivers of island tameness in lizards.”

Cooper and his colleagues scoured past studies and collated data on the distance at which lizards start to flee when approached by a researcher. They took a conservative approach, discarding studies in which researchers had pointed at the lizards, walked towards the animals faster or slower than a particular fixed speed, or studied populations that were habituated to humans.

Cooper and his team ended up with data for 66 species, from the Eurasian common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) to the Galapagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). The results clearly showed that humans can get closer to island-dwelling lizards than to mainland ones, and that lizards become more approachable on islands that are farther from the mainland.

Island ecology is so important that it overrides any effect of evolutionary history, Cooper and his co-authors say. They also showed that even closely related lizard species have different escape behaviours depending on where they live, and that their evolutionary relationships were mostly irrelevant.

The results do not explain why island lizards are tamer than those on the mainland, although the relative lack of island predators is the most likely reason. Animals with skittish dispositions can needlessly abandon valuable resources, and natural selection would be expected to weed out such responses if predators are rare or absent.

Cooper wants to test this idea, but says that it is hard to get decent data on the numbers, densities and types of predators on different islands.

See also here. And here.

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New Galapagos tortoises research


This is a video about Galápagos tortoises from the BBC’s Life in Cold Blood documentary series.

From Harvard University in the USA:

December 19, 2013

Genetic exploration of endangered Galapagos tortoises

The whalers, buccaneers, and other seafarers who plied the Pacific in centuries past brought rats, goats, and pigs along with them, seeding the islands they came across—intentionally and unintentionally—to establish food supplies for future voyages.

While much of the destruction of Pacific island flora and fauna can be traced to those too-successful invaders, recent studies of Galapagos tortoise genetics shows that, perhaps in one case, the mariners’ resupply practices preserved species.

Studies show that tortoise populations on a Galapagos island frequented by mariners contain hybrids representing two species now extinct on their home islands. Since the tortoises, which can live for months without food or water, were an important food supply for mariners, it is likely they were bought there from other islands to boost the population in a location easily accessible for resupply, according to researcher Michael Russello.

Russello, an associate professor of biology at the University of British Columbia, has spent the fall as Hrdy Visiting Fellow in Conservation Biology in Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. He discussed his work and that of other researchers Monday during a talk sponsored by the Harvard Museum of Natural History, one of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture (HMSC), in the Mineralogical and Geological Museum. He was introduced by HMSC Executive Director Jane Pickering.

The Galapagos tortoise is famed for its immense size and long life. Individuals have topped 500 pounds and stretched more than 5 feet long, and some have been known to reach 150 years old. Before humans arrived on the islands and tortoises began disappearing, they were the top herbivore, shaping the local environment with their slow, deliberate browsing. Their ample flesh, hardiness, and inability to escape, however, made them nearly a perfect food for sailors stopping at the islands during Pacific voyages, and hundreds of thousands were taken. Island inhabitants, meanwhile, also hunted the tortoises for meat, while the goats they introduced destroyed the vegetation on which the tortoises relied and rats killed many tortoise hatchlings.

Research shows the tortoises arrived at the Galapagos about 3 million years ago, likely riding a vegetation raft from the South American coast 600 miles away. They probably arrived first on the oldest islands, San Cristobal and Espanola, and developed into new species after their populations became divided, both by dispersing to other islands and after geologic processes and sea-level change divided the larger islands on which they lived.

The result is 15 described species, many limited to a single island. Until last year, four species had gone extinct. The death of Lonesome George, the last known representative of the Pinta Island species, in 2012 added a fifth to the extinction list.

But that was before genetic exploration of the population on Volcan Wolf.

Located at the northern point of Isabela, the chain’s largest island, Volcan Wolf is an ideal tortoise habitat and readily accessible to passing ships. The initial genetic investigation turned up hybrids with bloodlines from two islands whose populations were thought extinct: Pinta and Floreana, Russello said. Further, some were likely first-generation hybrids, the offspring of purebred individuals. They also seemed to be plentiful, with 11 hybrids found out of just 27 individuals sampled.

The findings prompted a larger 2008 expedition, in which teams sampled 1,669 individuals, drawing blood, noting the locations, and marking the tortoises so they could be monitored after analysis. The work found 84 hybrids of Floreana ancestry—of which 30 were less than 15 years old—and 17 with Pinta ancestry. A follow-up expedition is planned for next year to search the area where those populations were concentrated, hoping to find pureblood individuals and bring them to a captive breeding center on Santa Cruz Island. If all goes well, those individuals will serve as founders of a restored population.

“Human activity may have led to the preservation of lineages of species thought extinct,” Russello said.

Russello’s work doesn’t end with wild populations. He and colleagues have conducted genetic tests of captive tortoises in zoos around the world, finding that most belong to the species found on Santa Cruz. An examination of tortoises held at the Santa Cruz breeding center turned up a pleasant surprise, however: nine more with ancestry tracing to Floreana Island.

The hope of restoring tortoises to their ancestral islands has historical precedent, Russello said. Tortoises on Espanola, reduced to 14 individuals by hunting and habitat destruction from introduced goats, were brought into captivity, bred, and reintroduced on the island beginning in 1975. Coupled with a campaign to eradicate the goats, the captive-breeding program resulted in a population that now totals 2,000 individuals and is breeding naturally again.

A similar approach resulted in partial success on Pinzon Island, Russello said. Though thought extinct in the early 20th century, Pinzon tortoises held on. Introduced rats, however, killed hatchlings, meaning no young turtles were making it into the population. A program begun in 1965 held hatchlings until they were 4 or 5 years old and safe from rats before reintroducing them to Pinzon. The population has reached 258, and scientists are awaiting the results of a rat-eradication campaign conducted earlier this year in hopes that natural breeding can resume.

Galapagos marine iguanas video


This video says about itself:

Marine IguanasGalapagos Islands

OceanShutter.com presents yet another Underwater Film. Please feel free to Share or Like this Video!

This was filmed in August 2013 in the Galapagos Islands. Filmed using Canon 5d Mark II, and a 15mm fisheye lens.

This was also filmed using natural light. No artificial lights were used.

The Marine Iguanas in the Galapagos Islands have adapted to swim and their diet consists of Algae and Seaweed. During the day the[y] group together and lay in the sun. They also will blow salt out of the nostrils. It is quite a sight!

The Booby birds are probably the most well-known of the birds that live on the Galapagos Islands: here.

This is a full frame image of a Red-footed booby. You can get very close to these birds and with the help of a 400 mm lens you can capture some great images. Image captured while visiting Genovesa in the Galapagos Islands: here.

Climate change threatens unique Galápagos cormorant: here.

Galapagos underwater photos: here.

Galapagos conservation news


This video is called National Geographic HD – Galapagos Documental – Underwater Emotions IMAX.

From AboutMyPlanet:

Galapagos Islands Removed From Red List For Endangerment

October 16th, 2013, BY VeganVerve

The Galapagos Islands are famed for the part they played in developing Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The islands are home to many species not found elsewhere, much like other islands on the planet. It was the first ever World Heritage Site named by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 1978.

Then in 2007 the Galapagos Islands were placed on Unesco’s World Heritage Site red list for endangered sites. The reason for this listing was due to the increasing population, over fishing and increasing tourism. Non-native species introductions have also become a problem on the islands.

However, it was recently announced that Unesco’s World Heritage Committee has decided to remove the Galapagos Islands from their red list of endangered sites. Due to a recommendation from Brazil, the committee considered removing the islands from the list. After reviewing the information available, the committee decided that the Ecuadorian government was making strides towards improving the conditions on the islands.

The Galapagos Islands were recommended as a red list endangered site by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This same organization is very concerned about the removal of the islands from the red list. According to the IUCN, the islands are not out of the clear yet and the islands should still remain protected.

The IUCN’s World Heritage Program leader, Tim Badman, stated: “IUCN’s recommendation for the Galapagos was that it should not be removed from the Danger List as there is work still to be done.” Badman stated: “Threats from tourism, invasive species and over fishing are still factors and the situation in the Galapagos remains critical.”

14 unique animals of the Galapagos Islands: here.

Galápagos finches that inspired Darwin under threat from parasitical flies: here.

Galapagos wildlife on Scottish camera?


This video is called Scottish Seabird Centre 2011.

From the BBC:

Galapagos interest in Scottish Seabird Centre live-cam

By Emma Ailes, BBC Scotland

3 October 2013, Last updated at 21:09 GMT

Wildlife experts from the Galapagos Islands are in Scotland to see how remote camera technology could help with conservation.

The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick uses specially-designed cameras to give visitors a close-up view of bird colonies on Bass Rock and the surrounding islands.

The centre hopes to eventually become a hub for worldwide live footage.

The self-cleaning, solar-powered cameras can rotate 360 degrees.

They are designed to withstand all conditions and are operated by visitors at the centre more than three miles away.

The Galapagos Islands, about a thousand kilometres off the coast of South America, are famed for their wildlife.

Experts, including Roberto Maldonado, a conservationist at Galapagos National Park, hope the cameras will provide a close-up view of native species such as the giant tortoise, the marine iguana, and the blue-footed booby.

Ian Dunn, chief executive of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, said: “People love the Galapagos, they know the Galapagos. Finding ways to bring that into people’s homes in the UK as well as the reverse, taking these images into Galapagos, is a very powerful project.”

Tom Brock, chief executive at the Scottish Seabird Centre, has been to the islands to help the experts identify where the cameras should go.

He said: “The Scottish Seabird Centre is very much the world leader in remote viewing cameras. It’s wonderful that the Galapagos want to emulate that.

“We wanted to use the latest tech to allow people to see what it was like there without disturbing the wildlife.

“Some of the wildlife there is actually quite closely related to wildlife here – the blue-footed booby is of the same family as gannets.

“Ultimately, as satellite tech develops, we’d like to have live images coming from Galapagos to North Berwick and vice versa. It’s a great partnership.”

Mr Brock added: “What we’re keen to do is look at being a global video hub in North Berwick, with live streamed footage from all over the world, with infra red cameras for night time.

“As far as we’re aware, we’re the only ones with this kind of thing in the world – it’s cutting edge technology.”

Great Barrier Reef

The cameras allow scientists to monitor and study animal behaviour and watch for changes in population.

There are about 150,000 gannets on Bass Rock, with 14 cameras based in North Berwick, monitoring the gannets as well as the wildlife on the Isle of May.

They can zoom in on puffins, seals, razorbills, kittiwakes, as well as visiting pods of dolphins.

The Scottish Seabird Centre hopes that in five years time they will be able to have live links to key wildlife spots around the world such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Galapagos islands, video


This video, made in Ecuador, says about itself:

Discover the Galápagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions

24 sep 2013

Watch sea lions loop around snorkelers and blue-footed boobies strut down the beach.

Blue-footed booby invasion in California


This video is called Blue Footed Booby Mating Dance.

By Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel in the USA:

Booby invasion causes ‘huge excitement’ among Bay Area birders

09/19/2013 11:41:35 AM MDT

LIVE OAK — On a rocky shelf next to Sunny Cove, UC Santa Cruz student Abe Borker and some friends looked over the water Tuesday, scanning for an impossibility.

Yet there it was: the blue-footed booby, a subtropical seabird famed from the Galapagos Islands to the Sea of Cortez for its long, pointed beak, clumsy waddle and pastel-colored webbed feet, a combination that makes the bird look like it walked off a Pixar movie set.

“I was really excited,” said Borker, who is working toward a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary behavior. “I’d seen one in Mexico earlier this year, but I never thought I’d see one in Santa Cruz.”

Boobies are invading the coast of California with dozens of sightings recorded, especially in Southern California, something that that hasn’t been seen since 1971. They have been spotted as far north at Point Reyes, according to bird trackers, and there have been several local sightings as well.

Most seem to be juveniles, which have yet to develop the telltale blue feet. They tend to dwell in flocks of brown pelicans — another migratory seabird — and the first local sightings began on Sunday.

“Huge excitement for birders,” said Brian Sullivan, a locally based director of eBird.org, a project of the New York-based Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Right now there’s lots of birders out there to see and document this invasion.”

Sullivan spotted one near Point Pinos. They have since been seen in Capitola, Live Oak and Pescadero, and people like Monterey birding expert Don Roberson are keeping a sharp lookout for more.

Roberson said he narrowly missed a Sunday sighting. He also rushed out to a lunchtime report of three flying over the Monterey Wharf on Wednesday, to no avail. He aches to see one.

“There’s a lot of excitement. It’s been 42 years since there’s been one in Monterey County. I don’t have another 42 years,” Roberson said, author of “Birder’s California” and an authority on the history of local birding.

After hearing about the booby invasion, Alex Rinkert and a friend ventured to Seacliff State Beach, hoping to find one among an ongoing feeding frenzy of birds.

“On Tuesday, we saw one fly up the coast passing the cement ship at Seacliff, and then later in the day we found two roosting with many brown pelicans, Brandt’s cormorants, and Heermann’s gulls at BlackPoint on the Live Oak coast,” Rinkert said. “We were ecstatic at this point!”

Why the invasions occur has not been pinpointed. There have been reports of abundant anchovies in Monterey Bay, which has contributed to a phenomenal number of whales locally.

But Sullivan said it’s more likely the boobies are being pushed up here by a collapse of their food supply in Mexico. Roberson posited that it could be a combination of food scarcity following robust breeding seasons, which may explain why this invasion, as in 1971, features juvenile birds.

Bernie Tershy, a professor with UCSC’s Coastal Conservation Action Lab, believes that’s a strong possibility as well. He wrote his dissertation on boobies, and notes that while other kind of boobies will hatch one chick, the blue-footed variety can hatch up to four.

“The blue-footed booby are really set up to take advantage of good years,” Tershy said. “Their population can increase dramatically during good years.”

To Report a Booby

Seen a booby? Take notes and include your observations at eBird.org.

See also here.

Blue-footed Boobies are on the decline in the Galápagos. A new study appearing in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology indicates numbers of the iconic birds, known for their bright blue feet and propensity to burst into dance to attract mates, have fallen more than 50 percent in less than 20 years. Read more here.

One of the iconic birds of the Galapagos Islands, the blue-footed booby, has suffered a sharp population decline, authorities in the Ecuadoran archipelago said Wednesday, blaming overfishing. Read more here.

Galápagos Darwin’s finches evolution, new study


This video says about itself:

May 14, 2012

Darwin’s Finches in the Galapagos: Small Ground-finch, Large Ground-finch, Sharp-beaked Ground-finch (Vampire Finch), Common Cactus-finch, Small Tree-finch, Warbler finch.

From the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society in Britain:

Adaptive divergence in Darwin’s small ground finch (Geospiza fuliginosa): divergent selection along a cline

Article first published online: 14 JUNE 2013

Abstract

We examine here, in a single year (2005), phenotypic divergence along a 560-m elevation gradient in Darwin‘s small ground finch (Geospiza fuliginosa) in the Galápagos Islands. In this sample, four composite measures of phenotypic traits showed significant differences along the 18-km geographical cline extending from lowlands to highlands.

Compared with lowland birds, highland birds had larger and more pointed beaks, and thicker tarsi, but smaller feet and claws. Finches in an intervening agricultural zone had predominantly intermediate trait values. In a second, mark–recapture study we analyse selection on morphological traits among birds recaptured across years (2000–2005) in lowland and highland habitats.

Birds were more likely to survive in the highlands and during the wet season, as well as if they had large beaks and bodies. In addition, highland birds exhibited higher survival rates if they had small feet and pointed beaks – attributes common to highland birds as a whole. Lowland birds were more likely to survive if they possessed the opposite traits. Selection therefore reinforced existing morphological divergence, which appears to reflect local adaptation to differing resources during the predominantly drought-ridden conditions that characterized the 5-year study. Alternative explanations – including genetic drift, matching habitat choice, deformation by parasites, and the effects of wear – received little or no support.

Why Philornis downsi, the fly that “loves birds”, poses a risk to Finches on Galapagos Islands: here.