Galapagos volcano calms, pink iguanas safe


This is a David Attenborough video on Galapagos pink iguanas.

From AFP news agency:

May 26, 2015

Galapagos volcano calms, pink iguanas out of danger

A volcano in the Galapagos Islands whose fiery eruption raised fears for the world’s only population of pink iguanas has calmed, sparing the unique critters from danger, officials said Tuesday.

Wolf volcano is still showing signs of activity but has died down since a tour boat to the area found it breathing tongues of fire, puffing smoke and spilling bright orange streams of lava Monday, said officials at the Galapagos National Park and Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute.

“We haven’t had any more explosions like yesterday’s, which suggests a decrease in activity. However, there are still lava flows, which is normal in these cases,” said Alexandra Alvarado of the Geophysics Institute.

The island, Isabela, is home to the only known pink land iguanas in the world. The species, Conolophus marthae, lives at the foot of the volcano and is listed as critically endangered, with a population of only about 500.

The area, which is uninhabited by humans, is also home to members of a rare species of giant tortoise, Chelonoidis becki.

But the animals live on the northwest side of the volcano, opposite the , and appear to have been spared from harm, a park official said.

“We will likely carry out more flights over the area, but the are safe, and the tortoises, because the lava is flowing down the opposite side,” the official said.

Wolf volcano had last erupted in 1982.

It is one of five volcanoes on Isabela island, the largest in the Galapagos.

The Pacific archipelago, which sits about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, was made famous by Charles Darwin‘s studies of its breathtaking biodiversity, which was crucial in his development of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

UNESCO, which has declared the Galapagos a World Heritage Site, has warned the islands’ environment is in danger from increased tourism and the introduction of invasive species.

The pink iguanas, which were discovered in 1986, were established as a separate species in 2009 after an analysis of their genetic makeup determined they were distinct from their cousins, the Galapagos land iguanas.

Explore further: Fears for pink iguanas as Galapagos volcano erupts

Thankfully, the animals now appear to be in the clear, along with their neighbours, yellow iguanas and giant tortoises. The volcano is still erupting, but it has calmed down and the lava streams are flowing away from where the animals live: here.

Galápagos volcano erupts, pink iguana threatened?


This 2012 video is called Sir David Attenborough Reveals The Pink Iguana on Galapagos 3D.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Galápagos Islands volcanic eruption could threaten pink iguana species

The Wolf volcano, located at the highest point of the islands that inspired Charles Darwin, has erupted for the first time in more than 30 years

Tuesday 26 May 2015 03.27 BST

A volcano perched atop one of Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands erupted in the early hours of Monday, the local authorities said, potentially threatening a unique species of pink iguanas.

The roughly 1.7km (1.1 mile) high Wolf volcano is located on Isabela Island, home to a rich variety of flora and fauna typical of the archipelago that helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution following his 1835 visit.

“The Wolf volcano is not located near a populated area. There is not risk for the human population. This is the only population of pink iguanas in the world,” Galápagos national park said in a posting on Twitter.

The park posted pictures showing lava pouring down the sides of the Wolf volcano, the Galápagos’ highest point, while a dark plume estimated to be 10km (6.4 miles) high, billowed overhead.

Wolf had been inactive for 33 years, according to the park.

The lava is flowing down the volcano’s southern face while the iguanas, officially an endangered species, inhabit the opposite side, the Environment Ministry said, adding it expected the animals to escape harm.

The flow is likely to reach the sea, however, where it could harm marine life, the Geophysics Institute said separately. While populated areas of the island are safe from the eruption, the institute said some of the ash cloud could descend upon them.

In April, unusual seismic activity was also reported at the Sierra volcano on the same Isabela Island, the archipelago’s biggest, where yellow iguanas and giant turtles also live.

The eruption in Ecuador comes on the heels of eruptions in Chile, another South American country located on the so-called Pacific ring of fire.

Galapagos tortoises freed on island where they had become extinct


This video is called World’s BIGGEST TORTOISE! The Giant Galapagos Tortoise, 5 fascinating facts.

From daijyworld.com:

207 giant turtles to be released in the Galapagos

Quito (Ecuador), May 23 (IANS): Administrators at Ecuador’s Galapagos National Park said 207 giant turtles will be released next month on the island of Santa Fe, where the native tortoises died out more than 150 years ago.

The turtles to be set loose on June 5 by the park directors and the Galapagos Conservancy group belong to the species Chelonoidis hoodensis, Spanish news agency Efe reported from the South American nation.

Native to the Galapagos island of Espanola, the Chelonoidis [hoodensis] is morphologically and genetically similar to the original Santa Fe turtle.

The aim of the initiative is to establish “a breeding population that fulfills a function in the ecosystem”, park management said.

“Once the turtles are introduced, a key part of this project is to assess changes in the ecosystem resulting from the presence of these chelonians, and to evaluate the interaction between the turtles and the island’s land iguanas, particularly in the use of shared resources like food,” Danny Rueda, Galapagos ecosystems director, said.

The turtles to be released on Santa Fe range in age from four to 10 and have been raised in captivity.

Around 40 of the turtles will be equipped with a GPS device that will relay data on their movements and activities.

Pirates and whalers depleted the population of turtles in the archipalago, leaving only 15 individuals that allowed park management and the Charles Darwin Foundation to start a breeding programme.

The eradication in 1971 of the goats that had been introduced to the islands contributed greatly to the recovery of the ecosystem.

The Galapagos Islands, located about 1,000 km west of the coast of continental Ecuador, were declared a World Natural Heritage Site in 1978.

New lizard species discovered in Ecuador and Peru


This video says about itself:

Signalling behaviour of the Anolis lizards of Ecuador

10 November 2013

Video by Andrea Narvaez.

Species: Anolis otongae is displaying in front of Anolis gemosus (the green one).

Location: Otonga (cloud forest).

From National Geographic:

Colorful New ‘Dwarf Dragons’ Found in South America

The newfound wood lizards live in Ecuador and Peru—and chances are, there are more yet to be discovered, scientists say.

By Danielle Elliot

PUBLISHED April 06, 2015

Attention Game of Thrones: Three new species of “dwarf dragon” have been discovered in Peru and Ecuador, a new study says.

Due to political unrest in Ecuador, it took nearly a decade for scientists to identify the reptiles, which are commonly called wood lizards. They are the Alto Tambo wood lizard (Enyalioides altotambo), rough-scaled wood lizard (E. anisolepis), and Rothschild’s wood lizard (E. sophiarothschildae).

Wood lizards—which resemble miniature versions of mythical dragons—are among the largest and most colorful lizards in South American forests, making their discovery even more notable, according to scientists. (Also see “Colorful New Lizard Identified in Vietnam.”)

The study, published April 6 in the journal ZooKeys, brings the total number of wood lizard species to 15. That’s nearly twice the number of species known in 2006—giving this group of South American reptiles one of the fastest discovery rates of the past decade.

“I am a very lucky guy,” said study leader Omar Torres-Carvajal, curator of reptiles at the Museo de Zoología QCAZ at the Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito. A prolific discoverer of wood lizards, Torres-Carvajal is also a research collaborator with the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History.

“As I became more expert in the group, it became easier for me to suspect that something’s weird or new.”

Lizard of a Different Color

Scientists spotted the first new species, E. altotambo, in November 2005 in the northern Ecuadoran village of Alto Tambo (map). Bright green and black with smooth scales along most of its nearly five-inch-long (13-centimeter) body, the animal looked just like a related species, E. oshaughnessyi, which has been known since 1881.

But when the team brought the reptile to their lab at the Museo de Zoología, they noticed one major difference: This new lizard had brown eyes, with golden rings around the pupils. E. oshaughnessyi has bright red eyes. (Also see “Dragon-Like, Feathered Dinosaur Was Ace Flyer.”)

They also noted that the scales of the Alto Tambo are smoother than those of E. oshaughnessyi.

One specimen is hardly enough to confirm a discovery, so they decided to wait until they found another specimen. That took five years, because the lizards come from a region of Ecuador that isn’t considered safe for scientists to conduct field research.

“These guys are usually more abundant. The reason we didn’t find more is that we didn’t actually look,” Torres-Carvajal explained.

“We just were too scared to go and look for more.”

“This Is Something New”

Then in 2014, field researchers working along the border of Ecuador and Peru found a large group of wood lizards with distinctly white throats.

The lizards also had spiked scales and dark spots scattered all over their bodies, in combinations that differ from those in related species.

“I’m looking at them saying, ‘This is something new, because it has a combination of traits that I’ve never seen before.’ It was almost immediate—immediate and very exciting,” he said of their identification.

Taxonomist Pablo Venegas, who consults with the Ecuadoran museum but is based at the Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity in Lima, Peru, recognized the white throat scales from wood lizards he had first seen in northern Peru in 2003 and again in 2008.

DNA testing proved the 2003, 2008, and 2014 specimens belonged to the same species, which was dubbed E. anisolepis. (Also see “Pictures: Peru Park Boasts Highest Diversity of Amphibians and Reptiles.”)

As they continued examining other lizards Venegas had collected, the international team recognized a third new species, E. sophiarothschildae.

This reptile also has a white throat, as well as a splash of black and turquoise scales.

That’s not the end of the story. Torres-Carvajal predicts that in southern Ecuador and northern Peru, many more mini-dragons are waiting in the wings.

See also here.

Galapagos tortoises eat invasive plants


This 2014 video is called Galapagos Islands RARE ANIMALS – Giant Tortoise.

From Washington University in St. Louis, USA today:

Endangered tortoises thrive on invasive plants

3 hours ago

Most research on the role of introduced species of plants and animals stresses their negative ecological impacts. But are all introduced species bad actors?

In one fascinating case the answer might be no. The iconic giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands are thriving on a diet heavy on non-native plants. In fact, the tortoises seem to prefer these plants to native ones.

Introduced plants began to increase in abundance on the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s as native highland vegetation was cleared for agriculture, and the rate of introductions has been increasing ever since.

The giant tortoises, for their part, seem headed in the opposite direction. Until the late Pleistocene epoch, they were found on all the continents except Antarctica. Today they survive in only two locations: the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean, and the Galapagos Archipelago in the eastern Pacific Ocean. In the Galapagos, all of the remaining subspecies are considered vulnerable or endangered.

But now in a surprising turn of events, field research in the Galapagos shows that introduced plants make up roughly half the diet of two subspecies of endangered tortoise. What’s more, these plants seem to benefit the tortoises nutritionally, helping them stay fit and feisty.

The research, published in the March issue of Biotropica, was conducted by Stephen Blake, PhD, an honorary research scientist at Washington University in St. Louis and Fredy Cabrera of the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos.

“Biodiversity conservation is a huge problem confronting managers on the Galapagos Islands, “Blake said. “Eradicating the more than 750 species of invasive plants is all but impossible, and even control is difficult. Fortunately, tortoise conservation seems to be compatible with the presence of some introduced species.”

Counting bites and bouts

The study was done on the island of Santa Cruz, an extinct volcano that is home to two species of giant tortoise, but also to the largest human population in the Galapagos. Farmers have converted most of the highland moist zones to agriculture and at least 86 percent of the highlands and other moist zones are now degraded by either agriculture or invasive species.

In earlier work, Blake had fitted adult tortoises on Santa Cruz with GPS tags and discovered that they migrate seasonally between the arid lowlands, which “green up” with vegetation only in the wet season, to the meadows of the highlands, which remain lush year-round.

“This struck us as pretty odd, ” he said, “since a large Galapagos tortoise can survive for a year without eating and drinking. This is why sailors would collect the tortoises to serve as a source of fresh meat aboard ship.”

“Why would a 500-pound animal that can fast for a year and that carries a heavy shell haul itself up and down a volcano in search of food?,” Blake said. ” Couldn’t it just wait out the dry season until better times came with the rains?”

The answer, of course, depends on the tortoise’s energy balance. But the only detailed study of tortoise foraging the scientists were aware of had been completed in 1980, “largely before the explosion of introduced and invasive species hit the Galapagos,” Blake said.

Over a period of four years, the scientists followed tortoises in the field and, during 10-minute “focal observations” recorded every bite the tortoises took, the plant species and which part they ate. As an additional measure of the fruits the tortoises were eating, the scientists also counted and identified seeds (sometimes more than 1,000) in tortoise dung piles.

Counts of bites and bouts (defined as all feeding on a given species during the focal observations) showed that tortoises actually spent more time browsing on introduced species than on native ones.

“We weren’t really that surprised,” Blake said. “Consider it from a tortoise’s point of view. The native guava, for example, produces small fruits containing large seeds and a small amount of relatively bitter pulp in a thick skin. The introduced guava is large and contains abundant sweet pulp in a thin, pliable skin.”

The team, which included Sharon Deem, a wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist at the St. Louis Zoo, also assessed the tortoises’ health and nutritional status, weighing them by suspending them from a spring balance and taking blood samples.

All of the indicators the scientists studied suggest that introduced species in the diet have either a neutral or positive effect on the physical condition of the tortoises. Introduced species may even help tortoises to improve their condition during the dry season.

Since a return to “pristine” conditions is unlikely on the Galapagos, it is heartening to learn that this may not be all bad news for the islands’ charismatic megaherbivores.

Galapagos finches and Charles Darwin


This video says about itself:

Galapagos Finch Evolution — HHMI BioInteractive Video

26 August 2014

The Galápagos finches remain one of our world’s greatest examples of adaptive radiation. Watch as evolutionary biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant detail their 40-year project to painstakingly document the evolution of these famous finches. Their pioneering studies have revealed clues as to how 13 distinct finch species arose from a single ancestral population that migrated to the islands 2 million to 3 million years ago.

Use this video as a supplementary resource for lesson plans centered on teaching evolution. The video expertly illustrates the effects of natural selection on Galápagos finch populations.

Free classroom resources supporting this short film can be found here.

By Frank Nicholas, The Conversation:

April 3, 2015

Darwin’s finches highlight the unity of all life

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in October 1835, he and his ship-mates on board HMS Beagle collected specimens of birds, including finches and mockingbirds, from various islands of the archipelago.

At the time, Darwin took little interest in the quaint , making only a one-word mention of them in his diary. As painstakingly shown by Frank Sulloway and more recently by John Van Whye, it wasn’t until two years later that the finches sparked Darwin’s interest.

By then he had received feedback from the leading taxonomist of the time, John Gould, that the samples comprised 14 distinct species, none of which had been previously described! Gould also noted that their “principal peculiarity consisted in the bill [i.e. beak] presenting several distinct modifications of form”.

So intrigued was Darwin by this variation in size and shape of beaks that in the second (1845) edition of Journal of Researches he included illustrations of the distinctive variation between species in the size and shape of their beaks. He added a comment that:

Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.

Unfortunately for Darwin, the closer he examined the available evidence on Galapagos finches, the more confusing the picture became. This was partly because the specimens available to him were not sufficiently labelled as to their island of collection.

Presumably, it was his doubt about the available evidence that resulted in Darwin making no mention of Galapagos finches in any edition of Origin of Species.

Why, then, do people now label them as “Darwin’s finches”, and why are these finches now regarded as a classical textbook example of his theory of evolution by natural selection?

Paragons of evolution

Despite not mentioning Galapagos finches, Darwin did make much use of evidence from other Galapagos species (especially mockingbirds) in Origin of Species.

As the influence of Origin of Species spread, so too did the evolutionary fame of the Galapagos Islands. Increasingly, other biologists were drawn into resolving the questions about finches that Darwin had left unanswered.

By the end of the 19th century, Galapagos finches were among the most studied of all birds. By the mid-20th century, there was abundant evidence that Galapagos finches had evolved to fill the range of ecological niches available in the archipelago – a classic example of evolution by adaptive radiation.

Beak size and shape were key attributes in determining adaptation to the different types of food available. In the second half of the 20th century, classic research by Princeton University’s Peter and Rosemary Grant provided evidence of quite strong natural selection on beak size and shape.

Under the hood

New light has also been shed on the evolution of Darwin’s finches in a paper recently published in Nature. In this latest research, the entire genomes of 120 individual birds from all Galapagos species plus two closely related species from other genera were sequenced.

The work was done by a team led by Swedish geneticist Leif Andersson, with major input from Peter and Rosemary Grant, who are still leading experts on the finches.

Comparison of sequence data enabled them to construct a comprehensive evolutionary tree based on variation across the entire finch genome. This has resulted in a revised taxonomy, increasing the number of species to 18.

The most striking feature of the genome-based tree is the evidence for matings between different populations, resulting in the occasional joining of two branches of the tree. This evidence of “horizontal” gene flow is consistent with field data on matings of finches gathered by the Grants.

A comparison of whole-genome sequence between two closely related groups of finches with contrasting beak shape (blunt versus pointed) identified at least 15 regions of chromosomes where the groups differ substantially in sequence.

Unity of life

The most striking difference between the two groups was observed in a chromosomal region containing a regulatory gene called ALX1. This gene encodes a peptide that switches other genes on and off by binding to their regulatory sequences.

Like other such genes, ALX1 is crucially involved in embryonic development. Indeed, mutations in ALX1 in humans and mice give rise to abnormal development of the head and face.

It is an extraordinary illustration of the underlying unity of all life on Earth that Leif Andersson and his colleagues have shown that the ALX1 gene also has a major effect on beak shape in finches, and that this gene has been subject to natural selection during the evolution of the Galapagos finches.

If Darwin were alive today, he would be astounded at the power of genomics tools such as those used in generating the results described in this paper. He would also be delighted to see such strong evidence not only in support of evolution but also in support of one of its major forces, .

Shape-shifting frog discovered in Ecuador


Skin texture variation in one individual Pristimantis mutabilis; note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs. Image credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

From Sci-News.com:

Pristimantis mutabilis: Scientists Discover Shape-Shifting Frog in Ecuador

Mar 24, 2015

Case Western Reserve University PhD student Katherine Krynak, naturalist Tim Krynak of Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, and their colleagues from the Universidad Indoamerica, the University of Kansas, and organization Tropical Herping, have described a unique species of frog from Reserva Las Gralarias, Pichincha, north-central Ecuador. According to the team, the new species – named Pristimantis mutabilis (mutable rainfrog) – changes skin texture in minutes, appearing to mimic the texture it sits on.

Pristimantis mutabilis, described in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, is believed to be the first amphibian known to have this shape-shifting capability.

It belongs to a large genus of approximately 470 frog species found in the southern Caribbean and in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina and southern Brazil.

The scientists believe the ability to change skin texture to reflect its surroundings may enable Pristimantis mutabilis to help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

Katherine and Tim Krynak originally spotted the small, spiny frog, nearly the width of a marble, sitting on a moss-covered leaf about a yard off the ground on a misty July night in 2009.

The scientists captured one specimen and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. They nicknamed the frog ‘punk rocker‘ because of the thorn-like spines covering its body.

The next day, Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim Krynak to photograph. “It wasn’t ‘punk’ – it was smooth-skinned,” they said.

The scientists found the frog shifts skin texture in a little more than 3 minutes. They then performed morphological and genetic analyses showing that the frog was a unique and undescribed species.

They also studied the frog’s calls, finding three songs the species uses, which differentiate them from relatives.

In addition, team members Dr Juan Guayasamin and Dr Carl Hutter discovered that Pristimantis sobetes – a previously known species of frog with similar markings but about twice the size of Pristimantis mutabilis – has the same trait when they placed a spiny specimen on a sheet and watched its skin turn smooth.

The team plans to continue surveying for Pristimantis mutabilis and to further document their behaviors, lifecycle and texture shifting, and estimate their population, all in effort to improve our knowledge and subsequent ability to conserve this paradigm shifting species. Further, they hope to discern whether more relatives have the ability to shift skin texture and if that trait comes from a common ancestor.

If Pristimantis mutabilis and P. sobetes are the only species within this branch of Pristimantis frogs to have this capability, they hope to learn whether they retained it from an ancestor while relatives did not, or whether the trait evolved independently in each species.