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.

Shark finning in Costa Rica decimates world’s sharks. Read more 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.

Scientists raid mangrove finch nests as they battle to save birds discovered by Charles Darwin from extinction: here.

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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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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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Saving Galapagos mangrove finches


This video is called: In the Galapagos, Mangrove Finches Fight On by Sue Maturin, Forest & Bird.

From the International Community Foundation:

International Community Foundation Announces World’s First Mangrove Finch Hatched in Captivity at Charles Darwin Research Station, Ecuador

In February 2014, twelve Mangrove Finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) chicks have hatched as part of a captive rearing program was born at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos, Ecuador. This was the first success in the Mangrove Finch “head-start” program, which is designed to rescue the Mangrove Finch, the most threatened bird on the Galapagos Islands due to threats from nest parasites.

San Diego, CA (PRWEB) March 05, 2014

The International Community Foundation is pleased to announce that on 10th February 2014, the first Mangrove Finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) chick ever to hatch as part of a captive rearing program was born at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), the operative arm of the Charles Darwin Foundation in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos.

This was the first success in the Mangrove Finch “head-start” program, with eleven chicks having since hatched. This program is being conducted jointly by the San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD).

This is a great effort that complements previous hard work on research and management with this species that has been carried out since 1997, by the CDF in collaboration with the GNPD.

The Mangrove Finch is the bird most threatened by extinction in the Galapagos Islands. Currently only 60 to 80 individuals are left in existence and the Mangrove Finch is classified as Critically Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Its entire population is restricted to a tiny range of less than 30 hectares in two patches of mangrove forest in the west coast of Isabela Island. In the past 5 years individuals from a remnant population at southern Isabela have no longer been found.

Since early February, 21 eggs and three newly hatched chicks were collected from wild nests in the mangrove forest at Playa Tortuga Negra, on Isabela. The eggs and chicks were then transported in an incubator, by helicopter, to the newly created incubation and hand-rearing facility at the CDRS. This is an area adapted as a quarantine facility, which aims to minimize the chance of the nestlings being infected by disease. Once out of the shell, the chick rearing process is a very demanding task, since, among other things, they need to be hand fed fifteen times a day.

Francesca Cunninghame, CDF scientist responsible for the project said: “After three years of planning and despite many challenges, we are thrilled with the achievements in every step of the process: collection of the eggs, incubation and hand rearing in captivity. Each success is a result of the great teamwork with the SDZG and GNPD and represents a milestone for the recovery of the mangrove finch wild population. The reintroduction of the youngsters back into the wild will be our next big challenge.”

Richard Switzer, Associate Director of Animal Applied Ecology from SDZG stated: “The San Diego Zoo team is very excited to collaborate in this critically important project to prevent the extinction of the Mangrove Finch. In our breeding centers in San Diego and Hawaii, USA, we have developed techniques to raise very small insectivorous birds. Being able to share these skills for the conservation of Galapagos’ biodiversity is a wonderful opportunity.”

Among many introduced species, the main threat to the Mangrove Finch is the Philornis downsi fly. This fly lays its eggs in the nests of the finches and subsequently its larvae parasitize nestlings, feeding on their tissue and blood, and causing a high mortality rate. Due to its tiny population, and with very few youngsters that manage to grow into adults, the population is simply disappearing. In addition, because the Mangrove Finch is only found in one small location, the species faces a particular risk from natural disasters such as lava flows, fire, or disease.

The Minister of Environment, Lorena Tapia, emphasized: “It is extremely important the support of various institutions, in this case the Charles Darwin Foundation and the San Diego Zoo, as due to the geographical scale of the problems we face, joint efforts are required for the conservation of a species that is seriously affected.”

The first goal of this collaboration is to implement a “head-start” program to help Mangrove Finch chicks through the major threat of Philornis. The goal is to return the young birds back to Playa Tortuga Negra, where they will be cared for in a purpose-built acclimation aviary, before being released back into the mangrove forest and monitored by the field team.

The Mangrove Finch Project is funded by SOS – Save Our Species, the International Community Foundation (with a grant awarded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust), Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Galapagos Conservancy. San Diego Zoo Global provides technical expertise and funding. Several private individuals have also contributed.

Scientists help Galapagos finches combat killer maggots: here.

Talking about the Galapagos; from the University of Rochester:

First-ever 3D image created of the structure beneath Sierra Negra volcano

The Galápagos Islands are home to some of the most active volcanoes in the world, with more than 50 eruptions in the last 200 years. Yet until recently, scientists knew far more about the history of finches, tortoises, and iguanas than of the volcanoes on which these unusual fauna had evolved.

Now research out of the University of Rochester is providing a better picture of the subterranean plumbing system that feeds the Galápagos volcanoes, as well as a major difference with another Pacific Island chain—the Hawaiian Islands. The findings have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.

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