Galapagos tortoises thriving, plants endangered


This video is called GALAPAGOS – A Day With the Charles Darwin Foundation.

From Discovery News:

Galapagos Tortoises Thriving as Plants Face Threat

Eliminating goats on the islands that once inspired Charles Darwin have helped boost native species

By Jessica Marshall

Tue Jul 20, 2010 11

THE GIST

* Giant tortoises and albatrosses on Galapagos have made a comeback.
* Meanwhile, many native plants on the islands are threatened by invasive, non-native plants.
* The eradication of non-native goats have helped native animals thrive.

The islands that inspired Charles Darwin to formulate his famous theory of evolution have seen in an impressive comeback among its giant tortoise and albatross populations, while many of its unique plant species remain threatened by non-native varieties.

In inhabited areas of the Galapagos, non-native plant species now outnumber native plant species by a factor of almost 1.6 to one, according to a survey published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Meanwhile, giant tortoises, albatross and native cactus are doing well on the uninhabited island of Española, according to a new assessment of their numbers, following the eradication of goats introduced to the island centuries ago, and a successful tortoise breeding program.

“We’re winning on the uninhabited islands and we’re losing on the inhabited islands,” said Alan Tye of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program in Samoa, who studied invasive species on the Galapagos for more than a decade.

“The problem is that the inhabited islands are four of only seven islands that have humid highlands, and they are the largest. If things carry on as they are, we’re going to see quite a lot of extinctions,” he said.

The new plant survey took a detailed look at the inhabited islands, visiting nearly every property to catalog the species found there. The team catalogued 754 different alien plants, Of these, 257 were not previously known to be in Galapagos. Some of the worst invaders include guava, the quinine tree and a type of blackberry.

The humid highlands, the islands’ agricultural areas, host the greatest abundance of invasive species, said study authors Anne Guézou and Mandy Trueman of the Charles Darwin Foundation in Galapagos.

In the towns, non-native species are mainly ornamental plants found in people’s yards, but some of these could become invasive if they escape and start reproducing on their own, they said.

“Plants are a lot more insidious than animals,” said Mark Gardener, Director of Terrestrial Sciences at the Charles Darwin Foundation, but not a part of the study. “Plants aren’t like goats, unfortunately. Plants have seeds and you can’t find every seed.”

While plants may not capture the public’s heart like giant tortoises, they provide essential habitat for tortoises and other species. Darwin’s famous finches rely on trees that have suffered from clearing of land and from invasive blackberries, Trueman said.

The good news is that on the uninhabited island of Española, several native species are thriving after the elimination of feral goats on the island.

“I think there are something like double the albatrosses there were before, which is great news,” Gardener said.

“There are very few invaders on the uninhabited islands,” Tye said. “Goats are gone and we’re starting to work on the rats and we’re seeing fabulous regeneration. Once you get rid of those animals the vegetation comes back pretty resilient.”

Giant tortoises on the island represent a huge success, bouncing back from only 15 individuals to more than 2000 with the help of captive breeding. The survey showed that the tortoises released on the island are now breeding on their own.

Surveyers also found that a cactus native to Española, devastated by goats, was coming back now that goats are gone.

Conquering the problems on inhabited islands won’t be easy, Tye said. “There are fundamental problems in Galapagos with land use planning an management of what people bring into the islands and how they manage domestic plants and animals. It’s fundamentally a social issue.”

Bringing non-native plants to Galapagos has been banned since 1999. “People are bringing less,” Guézou said, “but it is still happening. The quarantine system is not 100 percent perfect.”

Critically Endangered Waved Albatross gets lifeline from new technology to reduce bycatch: here.

7 thoughts on “Galapagos tortoises thriving, plants endangered

  1. Tue., July 12, 2011 7:00pm (EDT)

    Methuselah, A Well-Loved Tortoise, Dies At 130 In South Dakota
    By Bill Chappell
    Updated: 10 hours ago

    Methuselah, a giant tortoise whose life began in the Galapagos Islands 130 years ago, has died in Rapid City, S.D. Since 1954, the huge animal has been a star attraction at Reptile Gardens, where officials estimate that he posed for photographs with tens of thousands of visitors, many of them children.

    Methuselah began his life in 1881. Here’s a sampling of what else was going on that year:

    James Garfield became president.

    Billy the Kid escaped from jail and was killed by Pat Garrett in New Mexico.

    The American Red Cross was established.

    The O.K. Corral gunfight took place in Tombstone, Arizona.

    According to the AP, park officials commonly heard grandparents telling their grandchildren about their own visits to see Methuselah when they were young.

    Park public relations director John Brockelsby said that he first met the tortoise when he was three years old.

    “My favorite memories are when I rode him as a child and when I would scratch his neck and under his chin,” he told the Rapid City Journal. “Also, feeding him watermelon his favorite was always a lot of fun, because if there was ever a chance to see pleasure on a tortoise’s face, it was then. He just loved it.”

    The 500-pound tortoise had more watermelon last month, when the park threw a party for his birthday. His 130 years represent a long life, even by giant tortoise standards.

    After Methuselah’s arrival at the park at age 73, children were allowed to ride on the tortoise’s back a practice that became forbidden over the years. And park officials say that in the past 10 days, Methuselah had shown signs that he might not live for much longer.

    Brockelsby tells the AP that Reptile Gardens will build a memorial to Methuselah. He said of the giant tortoise, “losing him is like losing an old, good friend.”

    Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.

    http://www.gpb.org/news/2011/07/12/methuselah-a-well-loved-tortoise-dies-at-130-in-south-dakota

    Like

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