Natural History Collections

The Natural History Collections at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) were created to provide a long-term resource for the study of biodiversity, taxonomy and speciation of the organisms that make up the natural living laboratory that is the Galapagos Islands.

As caretaker of the Collections for the Government of Ecuador, we are dedicated to the maintenance and improvement of this unique resource. From ant specimens to the Galapagos dove, Zenaida galapagoensis, the Collections provide an unparalleled record of Galapagos biodiversity and species occurrence that stretches back over 60 years. They are used by researchers, staff, government agencies such as the Galapagos National Park and the Agency for Galapagos Biosecurity, students, visitors and residents.

Over the years, the collections have been used for phylogenetics studies, descriptions of species new to science, taxonomic revisions, biogeographic studies, estimations of genetic variation for conservation purposes, identifications of new species records for the Galapagos, invasive species studies and many other investigations.

All of our Collections are kept in climate-controlled spaces with cool temperatures and low humidity and are monitored regularly for pests and fungi; all of these tasks are challenges in our tropical environment. Maintenance of all the collections is conducted at regular intervals. New specimens are tagged and catalogued in our database; records are available online through the CDF DataZone portal.

Physical specimens from the collections can be loaned to qualifying individuals and institutions who adhere to strict requirements for permitting, shipping, upkeep and returns.

Visit our Natural History Collections Database section in the dataZone to further understand our biodiversity databases.

The CDS Collection (also known as the Herbarium) was fully formalized in 1994, and has been in place since the early years of the Foundation. It is home to over 43,000 specimens of vascular and non-vascular plants, as well as plant-like organisms such as lichens, algae and fungi, with around 1,000 new specimens being added each year.

Around 80% of the specimens in the collection are vascular plants, with the remaining 20% being cryptogams (non-vascular plants and plant-like organisms). The majority of specimens in the Herbarium are native to the Galapagos Islands, however CDS also includes invasive species that are now a part of the Galapagos flora. Specimens of plants from the Ecuadorian mainland, which are a resource for studies of diversity and can aid in identification, are also part of the collection. In addition to whole-organism and partial specimens, representative examples of fruits, seeds and pollen are collected and catalogued in the Herbarium. These can be used for identification purposes and in studies of plant-animal interactions, pollination, and others. Photographs and micrographs are also catalogued to complement physical specimens. Projects developed through the Herbarium collection include individual rapid guides to the seeds, pollen and lichens of the Galapagos Islands, and others such as genetics studies of various endemic species. 

Herbarium specimens are preserved according to internationally-accepted practices and are housed in a dedicated, climate-controlled area with an internal lab space. Digitization of specimen records is on-going, with nearly 90% of all specimens catalogued in a searchable online database available through the CDF Datazone.

Curator of Herbarium:
Patricia Jaramillo Díaz

Fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are included in the CDF Vertebrate Collection. Vertebrate specimens have been catalogued at the Foundation since 1962, with the goal of cataloguing all terrestrial vertebrates. Progress towards this goal is ongoing, but slow; deliberate collection of full organisms has not occurred for many years, due to conservation concerns and the regulations of the National Park.

At present, collection of vertebrate specimens occurs if an organism is found dead, or is injured and unable to be rehabilitated. All specimens are collected with prior authorization from the Galapagos National Park. Once the individual is collected, staff or perform a necropsy, and genetic and histopathology samples are taken. If necessary, pathogen analyses are also conducted before the organism is taxidermied. Bones may or may not be present with the specimen. Some organisms, such as amphibians or other small organisms, are preserved in alcohol.

Auxiliary collections include tissue samples, genetic samples and specimens of otoliths (ear bones) of fish, as well as others that have been entered on the CDF DataZone.

Vertebrates curator:
Miguel Pinto

“I was very impressed by the CDRS invertebrate collection during my visit to the Galapagos. It is being assembled in a professional manner, and of course has special scientific significance because of the uniqueness of the fauna and the lessons in ecology and evolution it teaches us.” --E.O. Wilson, 2014

Fifty-one percent of the biodiversity in the Galapagos consists of insects, so it is no surprise that the Invertebrate Collection (ICCDRS) is the largest of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s Natural History Collections. It contains over 38,000 specimens, of which the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Formicidae (ants) form the largest part. In keeping with the status of the Galapagos as arguably the most significant natural history laboratory of speciation, the collection houses over 90 species holotypes and paratypes, the specimens that define and represent new species. 

Because of the delicacy and age of the specimens, some 50 years old or more, the collection is maintained under strict temperature and humidity controls. Specimens are pinned, placed in envelopes or preserved in alcohol. Around 5% of the wet and 57% of the dry specimens in the collection have been completely processed and entered into the database, which also contains observational and off-site records. The digitization of older collection records is an ongoing process.

Curator of Terrestrial Invertebrate:
Lenyn Betancourt

The Marine Collection (MCCDRS) is the newest of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s Natural History Collections. It was initiated in 2008 and currently has over 7,000 specimens of marine invertebrates.

Specimens are added in the course of field work by employees of the Foundation and associated organizations. Some of the newest specimens in the collection have been added from recent explorations of seamounts within the Galapagos Marine Reserve and include several species suspected to be new to science; the identification process is underway.

Curator of Marine Collections:
Nathalia Tirado-Sánchez

Access to the Natural History Collections at the Charles Darwin Research Station

The use of specimens and associated equipment is restricted to researchers and staff working on research projects with a valid  research permit to work in scientific activities in the Galapagos National Park. The access to the collection is granted by filling out an individual access form.

Natural History Collections CDRS Registration Form

Please fill out this form and mail it to Patricia Jaramillo for the Herbarium, Miguel Pinto for the Vertebrates Collection, Lenyn Betancourt for the Terrestrial Invertebrates Collection or Nathalia Tirado-Sánchez for the Marine Collection.



The mission of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station is to tackle the greatest threats and challenges to Galapagos through scientific research and conservation action, in order to safeguard one of the world’s most important natural treasures.

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Av. Charles Darwin s/n, Puerto Ayora, Galápagos, Ecuador
(593) 5 2526-146 / 2527-013 Ext 101
Quito Office
Francisco Andrade Marín
E6-122 y Av. Eloy Alfaro
+593 (2) 2 231 174

The ‘Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands’, in French ‘Fondation Charles Darwin pour les îles Galapagos”, Association internationale sans but lucratif (AISBL), has its registered office at 54 Avenue Louise, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Trade Registry # 0409.359.103

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