Latest News

When people ask me, why do you love plants? The answer is easy: “plants are at the base of the trophic chain, meaning they are crucial for the ecosystems”, and having so many endangered species...

The community in the Galapagos Islands is of great relevance in the research programs of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). It is also of relevance for the natural conservation of the archipelago. Humans...

The Executive Directorate of the Charles Darwin Foundation identified in 2016 that it was a necessity to spread the mission of the Foundation on the different populated areas of the archipelago. For this...

Written with the support of Francesca Cunninghame.

The Mangrove Finch is a Critically Endangered species that is found only in a small mangrove forest on Isabela Island and it is currently...

I remember my first exposure to local conservation efforts in Ecuador; I must have been 9 years old, and passing by the mangrove trees still standing on the outskirts of Guayaquil, where a big sign read...

This article was co-written by Salomé Buglass.

Approximately a year ago, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Ecuadorian tour-company, Ecoventura, and the...

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Get Your Galapagos Passport

We all know that a trip to the Galapagos Islands is something you never want to forget, which is why we have created the first ever Galapagos passport! This pocket size booklet is the perfect souvenir for wildlife lovers, providing visitors fun facts and interesting information about our work on the Galapagos Islands.

Research Projects

Control of Invasive Fly Philornis Downsi

Control of an Invasive Fly

The introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, is considered the major cause of the decline in land bird species on the Galapagos Islands.

The Philornis downsi fly lays its eggs in birds nests. The parasitic larva then feeds on the blood of the hatchlings, causing up to 100% mortality rate in the nest.

At least 16 to 20 species of songbirds that can only be found on the Galápagos are now threatened by the Philornis downsi, including the emblematic Darwin finches. In the case of the Mangrove finch, only 80 individuals are left in the wild.

The DiveStat Project

DiveStat

The Charles Darwin Foundation and WWF, in collaboration with the Galapagos Tourism Observatory and the Galapagos National Park Directorate have created a tool that monitors touristic diving activity.

The Dive Stat website allows us to gather deep knowledge in order to improve the management of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR).

Biological Control of the Tropical Fire Ant

Fire Ants

The tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata) is a big threat to the Galapagos Islands.

The Charles Darwin Foundation is evaluating the feasibility of using biological control for this species using phorid fly species (decapitating flies). However, before introducing this species to the archipelago, first we must be sure not to put the biodiversity of the islands at risk

Ecology and Evaluation of Fisheries

Fisheries

The goal of the fisheries program at the Foundation is to provide the best information for the management of fisheries to our partners in conservation, the Galapagos National Park.

To that end, we established the first otolith aging lab in the Galapagos, and are using this information to define important parameters in the life history of several commercially-important fisheries species, such as brujo (Pontinus clemensi), bacalao (Mycteroperca olfax) and camotillo (Paralabrax albomaculatus).

We are also assessing the effectiveness of fish-aggregating devices, large buoys that attract pelagic fish, with a view to improving the overall sustainability of Galapagos fisheries.

Other areas we are investigating include the importance of mangrove areas for fish-rearing, the impacts of El Niño on artisanal fisheries and the benefits of no-take zones for spiny lobsters.

Galápagos Verde 2050

Galapagos Verde

Galápagos Verde 2050 is a multi-institutional and interdisciplinary project with the objective of restoring degraded ecosystems and implementing agricultural practices to ensure a more sustainable archipelago. Currently, more than 7,700 plants from 72 different species have been planted in 72 study sites in Galápagos by the project team, thanks to the water saving technologies (Groasis and biodegradable Cocoon) and water harvesting.

The project began in January 2014 and is carried out in three phases: the first between 2014 and 2017 on Santa Cruz, Baltra and Plaza Sur; the second between 2017 and 2027 on Española and Isabela; and the third between 2027 and 2050 on all the islands that require intervention. In October 2017 the first phase was completed, which focused on the ecological restoration of urban, rural and natural ecosystems within the Galapagos National Park.

Ecology of Giant Tortoises

Giant Tortoises

Introduced species are the greatest threat to the biodiversity of Galapagos, and the highlands of Galapagos is one of the most impacted terrestrial ecosystems.

Giant tortoises (Chelonoidis spp.) are the most iconic species of the Galapagos Islands. Although they are protected species, migratory Galapagos tortoises and their habitats are exposed to a variety of threats from invasive species and human development.

In collaboration with the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Program, the CDF aims to conserve giant tortoises using cutting-edge technology and educating locals. By using GPS tracking, we are discovering how environmental factors are shaping tortoise health, reproduction, and ecology.

Furthermore, over 1,000 local young people have been involved in our experiential learning program. 

GMaRE

GMaRE

The Charles Darwin Foundation and the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL), a public higher education institution in Ecuador, have established a program for the next ten years aimed at working together to understand the Galapagos marine ecosystems and support their conservation, particularly taking into account the threats related to climate change.

The program will train young scientists and professionals in order to secure the future conservation of the archipelago.

Reducing the Threat of Boat Strikes for Green Turtles

Green Turtles

The Eastern Pacific green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) is a species with worldwide distribution. In the Galapagos Islands, it is the most common species of marine turtle, and the only one that breeds in the archipelago.

An increasing human population and more tourism in the islands has led to more ship traffic. One of the unfortunate side effects of this increase in boat transit has been a rise in the number of vessel strikes on sea turtles.

Together with Queen’s University Belfast and Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), CDF is working to analyze shipping routes, socioeconomic impacts and key sea turtle habitat to identify socially-acceptable solutions to this issue.

Distribution of the Introduced Treefrog (Scinax quinquefasciatus)

Introduced Frogs

Fowler’s Snouted Treefrog is a relatively recent invader of the Galapagos Islands, having been introduced from mainland Ecuador most likely during the wet El Niño season of 1997/98.

Little is known about the biology and ecology of this frog in Galapagos. To close this knowledge gap and to gain information for potential management, CDF initiated a study of the diet, distribution, habitat use and potential dispersal of this species.

The CDF is undertaking this project in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral (ESPOL).

Invasive Plant Control

Invasive Plant Control

Currently there are more than 800 species of plants on the Galapagos Islands. Some of the most damaging plants include the blackberry, red quinine, guava and the Cuban cedar.

The Charles Darwin Foundation together with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and other collaborators, is studying the impact of these introduced species, in a plan to improve current controls in place to reduce their abundance.

Invasive Species in the Agricultural Zone

Invasive Species in the Agricultural Zone

The Charles Darwin Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries (MAGAP) undertook research on the occurrence and management of invasive plants in the agricultural zone of Santa Cruz.

The objective of the project is to find out more about the introduced flora and fauna and its impact on the agricultural zone. Furthermore, this investigation will evaluate the impacts of management tools, for example, the use of agrochemicals.

Status and Ecology of Landbirds

Landbirds

Our knowledge in regards to the size of the population, health and reproductive success of landbirds in Galapagos remains incomplete.

In recent years, populations of various species such as the vermillion flycatcher, green warbler-finch, the small, medium and large tree finches and the woodpecker finch have declined and some have even become extinct. The reasons for these declines are not fully understood.

The most imminent threat for landbirds in the Galapagos is the presence of the invasive fly and nest parasite, Philornis downsi. The investigators and collaborators of the Charles Darwin Foundation are currently working on strategies for the timely detection of population declines and the evaluation of the status of landbirds in the archipelago.

Status and Ecology of Lecocarpus leptolobus

Lecocarpus leptolobus

Studies conducted on San Cristóbal Island over the last 15 years have revealed existence of different forms of the Lecocarpus genus plant, which clarifies the origin of the samples collected by Charles Darwin in 1835 and by Alban Stewart in 1906.

An analysis of the morphological data gathered over years of fieldwork has been completed, and is set for publication soon.

Saving the Mangrove Finch

Mangrove Finch

The Mangrove Finch (Camarynchus heliobates) is one of the 14 species of the Darwin finches that the only lives on the Galapagos Islands. It is the most rare bird on the archipelago, with an estimated 80 individuals that live on two 30 hectare sites on the island of Isabela.

The IUCN Red List of Endangered Species classifies the Mangrove Finch as in Critical Danger.

The main known threats are the introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, and the introduced black rat (Rattus rattus). 

Mapping Mangroves and Beaches

Mapping Mangroves and Beaches

Mangroves and beaches are key habitats for many Galapagos species, such as sharks, the mangrove finch, sea lions and marine iguanas.

The Charles Darwin Foundation are using Google Earth images to obtain data and update existing knowledge about the distribution and coverage of beaches and mangroves in order to conserve these unique habitats.

In 2017, we were able to identify approximately 4,000 beaches and we are now able to track changes to mangrove distribution on the Galapagos Islands.

Identifying Marine Invasive Species

Marine Invasive Species

Marine invasive species can threaten biological diversity, human health and/or economic activity.

Globally, marine invasions have increased due to commerce, shipping and tourism. Invasions occur when species are transported from one region to another and become established in the new environment. These undesired guests compete for space and can displace and harm the populations of native species.

The Galapagos Islands are under threat from possible marine invasive species, given the connectivity that exists with the Eastern Tropical Pacific, the increase in tourism and associated marine traffic and the effect of extreme climatic events such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The CDF scientists, together with our collaborators, are developing risk assessments along with protocols for the prevention, early detection and management of marine invasive species in the GMR.

Current Numbers of Introduced Species

 
The Charles Darwin Foundation and collaborators have made huge efforts to determine the current number of introduced species on the Galapagos Islands.

After revising and consolidating databases, we have identified the entry points of the species in order to combat these threats in the future.

The current number of species introduced is as follows:

Number of Introduced Species

Pathogens and Parasites

Pathogens and Parasites

Pathogens and parasites have existed for many years in Galapagos flora and fauna, however, recently more foreign species have reached the islands.

The CDF and collaborators are investigating the impact of these species on the archipelago’s ecosystems in an effort to protect the many endemic species such as Mangrove Finches and the Galapagos penguins who have been negatively affected by the presence of parasites and pathogens.

Pollen and Seed Collection

Pollen and Seeds

The Charles Darwin Foundation houses the first and largest collection of pollen and seeds in Ecuador. Many of the pollen samples collected are from endemic species, like those of the Scalesia, Lecocarpus, Jasminocereus and Darwiniothamnus genera.

The CDF and visiting scientists are also studying the interactions between these inherent Galapagos plants and the animals who feed on and disperse their seeds.

We are currently working on two books about the pollen and seed collections, to be published in 2018.

Restoration of the Scalesia Forest

Scalesia Forest

The native plants of Galapagos have been gravely affected by the expansion of the human population and by invasive species, especially on the inhabited islands.

The Scalesia forest on Santa Cruz is estimated to cover only 1% of its original area. What was previously a leafy forest rich in species has encountered a grave danger from the highly invasive blackberry plant (Rubus niveus).

Scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation are working together with the GPND and local and international collaborators in order to investigate the effects of management actions on plant and animal species.

The results of this study will provide data-driven information about the best techniques for the control of blackberry

Population Studies of Sea Birds

Sea Birds

The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) and the flightless albatross (Phalacrocorax harrisi) are endemic to the Galapagos archipelago and Ecuador.

They can now be found on the IUCN Red List of endangered species, in the ‘In Danger’ category. The population status of these island species is being monitored on a yearly basis with our partners at the GNPD.

Seamounts and Ecosystem Services

Seamounts

Seamounts are underwater mountains that rise above the surrounding seabed but do not break the surface. These underwater structures provide deep-sea hard substrate, allowing productive formation of deep-sea coral and sponge reef communities. Additionally, seamounts are considered highly productive, redirecting deep-sea currents rich in nutrients that attract a myriad of other marine organisms, such as fish and marine mammals.

Over 300 seamounts are estimated to exist within the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), yet very little is known about these ecosystems. The CDF, in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Ocean Exploration Trust, National Geographic and other institutions, is leading the first comprehensive research project to study seamount ecosystems in the GMR. This project aims to establish the first biodiversity baseline of these ecosystems and study their socio-economic value.

Following the exploration and sampling of various seamounts onboard visiting research vessels with state-of the-art deep-sea submarines and remotely operated vehicles, over 100 organisms have been identified, of which 50 are new records in the GMR and 30 are species potentially new to science.

Population Status and Ecology of Sharks

Sharks

With an estimated 100 million sharks captured annually worldwide, many populations are declining and in danger of extinction.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the last refuges of sharks in the world, and the home of species such as the whale shark, common hammerhead shark, tiger shark and Galapagos shark. However, the growth of the resident population and the tourism industries along with fisheries has significantly increased the pressure on marine resources.

Scientific expeditions and monitoring programs are being undertaken in a wide variety of marine ecosystems, from seamounts to mangrove bays, with the goal of increasing scientific knowledge about habitats critical to shark survival, such as nursery, feeding and migratory patterns. The CDF wants to understand these behaviors in order to conserve their populations.

Sharks and the Local Community

Sharks and the Community

The Charles Darwin Foundation designed and implemented the educational outreach campaign called ‘Protect the fins and the ocean wins’ to promote Galapagos as an example of sustainable co-existence between humans and sharks within the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

The CDF developed workshops, field trips, contests and open events reaching 82% of Galapagos children aged between 9 and 12 years.

In 2017, the Charles Darwin Foundation created the “Sharks Ambassadors Program” which involves local youth between the ages of 14 and 16. This program teaches them research techniques and includes fieldwork activities that will allow them to create their own shark outreach projects for the community.

Research Projects

Control of an Invasive Fly

Control of Invasive Fly Philornis Downsi

Control of an Invasive Fly

The introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, is considered the major cause of the decline in land bird species on the Galapagos Islands.

The Philornis downsi fly lays its eggs in birds nests. The parasitic larva then feeds on the blood of the hatchlings, causing up to 100% mortality rate in the nest.

At least 16 to 20 species of songbirds that can only be found on the Galápagos are now threatened by the Philornis downsi, including the emblematic Darwin finches. In the case of the Mangrove finch, only 80 individuals are left in the wild.

DiveStat
Fire Ants
Fisheries
Galápagos Verde 2050
Giant Tortoises
GMaRE
Green Turtles
Introduced Frogs
Invasive Plant Control
Invasive Species in the Agricultural Zone
Landbirds
Lecocarpus leptolobus
Mangrove Finch
Mapping Mangroves and Beaches
Marine Invasive Species
Number of Introduced Species
Pathogens and Parasites
Pollen and Seeds
Scalesia Forest
Sea Birds
Seamounts
Sharks
Sharks and the Community

Natural History Collections

Many scientists from various institutions are involved in collecting species samples from different Galapagos locations and are responsible for adding them to our natural history collections.

Specimens 89444

Species 9037

Scientists 1691

Localities 204

Institutions 38

Collections 51

The present numbers reflect a data filtering that counts only physical specimens, accepted taxons and verified data.

The “Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands”, in French “Fondation Charles Darwin pour les îles Galapagos”, Association International sans but lucratif (“AISBL”), has its registered office located at Drève du Pieuré 19, 1160 Brussels, and is registered under the trade registry of Brussels under the number 0409.359.103.

© 2018 Charles Darwin Foundation. All rights reserved.