Galapagos Verde 2050 program work team at Charles Darwin Research Station. Photo: Jonathan Cueva, CDF.

Have you ever wondered who is behind the conservation of the Galapagos flora?

During the final months of 2020, the fateful COVID-19 pandemic year, I was exhausted by virtual life and the uncertainty of what the future would hold for us as humankind. But also, I felt stuck. I was in the middle of my university semester, and with virtual education, demotivation was taking over me, “What am I doing with my life?”, “I have to do something else”, I kept repeating to myself, but I did not know what. I have always characterized myself as being on the move, trying to be in contact with nature and disconnect from urban life. Suddenly, among the overwhelming pandemic news, corruption in my country, and so on, a news item from the Charles Darwin Foundation about the rediscovery of Lecocarpus lecocarpoides, a rare endemic plant species in danger of extinction, by the Galapagos Verde 2050 program scientists, appeared on my social networks.

I was immediately overcome with curiosity. What is the Galapagos Verde 2050 program? I wondered and quickly googled it. It turns out it is a program that works towards the ecological restoration of the Galapagos Islands. This moved me, as my desire has always been to make the world a better place to live in, and this program felt like it was looking forward to the same goal with a long-term projection.

For the New Year’s Eve holidays, I returned to Galapagos and decided to get rid of the virtual-life lethargy and start doing something for the world, for science, and for my life. So, once on the island, I steeled myself and went to the Charles Darwin Research Station, asked about the Galapagos Verde 2050 program, and went to talk with the Leader and principal investigator, the awarded scientist Patricia Jaramillo Diaz. I told her about my interest in science, what I had read about the program, my studies, and my desire to do something more than getting up and turning on the computer until my eyes burn. She asked me to join the program as a volunteer, collaborate in the actions to reestablish the population of that rare and endangered plant (L. lecocarpoides) on a distant island, and get involved with the work that real scientists do.

I could not be more excited about this new challenge! Galapagos is my home and my favorite place in the world. Since I was little, I have always been interested in science and admired people involved in scientific research. It was clear to me that I wanted to be one of them, make my contribution, unveil the mysteries of this natural laboratory, and get involved in endangered endemic species conservation.

Returning to Puerto Ayora after a successful expedition to Punta Manzanillo, Española. Photo: Paúl Mayorga, CDF.
Returning to Puerto Ayora after a successful expedition to Punta Manzanillo, Española. Photo by: Paúl Mayorga, CDF.

When I joined this fantastic program as a volunteer, the mission was clear: I had to contribute, together with the team of scientists, my knowledge to establish the factors that may be involved in the germination of L. lecocarpoides, a plant endemic to Española island, presumably extinct but rediscovered by the Galapagos Verde 2050 scientists in late 2020. Can you believe it? Amid the worst pandemic of the last century, science on the islands did not stop. Why did we focus on plant germination? Because it is very difficult to naturally germinate one of its seeds, and discovering its triggering mechanism could imply saving the species. Now, why do I say that L. lecocarpoides was rediscovered? Well, because its last sighting was approximately... Nine years ago (2013).

L. lecocarpoides is a plant species historically extremely affected by feral goats that invaded Española island. These mammals were introduced to the Galapagos Islands in the 17th century by whalers and in the 20th century by the first archipelago settlers. Being listed as one of the 100 most dangerous invasive species in the world, they eventually became a major problem in several islands, including Española, so the authorities had to take actions for their eradication. Let's get to the point. In 1978 the goats were eradicated from the Española island, but unfortunately, L. lecocarpoides population failed to recover and remain stable in its place of origin (Punta Manzanillo). Why? We do not know yet, but we are figuring it out.

L. lecocarpoides origin site at Punta Manzanillo, Española Island. Map elaborated by: David Cárdenas, CDF.
L. lecocarpoides origin site at Punta Manzanillo, Española Island. Map elaborated by: David Cárdenas, CDF.

As our efforts were directed towards understanding natural seed germination, we started a series of preliminary experiments and... Guess what we found? Nothing less than fungi growing on the outer coat of some of the seeds that germinated. It should be highlighted that there was no evidence until then of natural germination of L. lecocarpoides seeds (under traditional techniques, i.e., put the seed in soil and wait for it to germinate) in the CDF laboratories. The truth is that it was always necessary to apply scarification techniques (abrading the external structure of the seed) to germinate seedlings. Therefore, this event led us to consider that certain soil fungi at the origin site of L. lecocarpoides may be involved in seed germination.

L. lecocarpoides seeds scarification for germination experiments carried out by Anna Calle, GV2050 researcher. Photo: Pavel Enríquez, CDF.
L. lecocarpoides seeds scarification for germination experiments carried out by Anna Calle, GV2050 researcher. Photo by: Pavel Enríquez, CDF.
L. lecocarpoides seed germinated after scarification processes. Photo by: Pavel Enríquez, CDF.
L. lecocarpoides seed germinated after scarification processes. Photo by: Pavel Enríquez, CDF.
Fungal colony on a L. lecocarpoides seed. Photo by: Pavel Enríquez-Moncayo, CDF.
Fungal colony on a L. lecocarpoides seed. Photo by: Pavel Enríquez-Moncayo, CDF.

To explore this, we undertook an expedition to Punta Manzanillo to take soil and seed samples to cultivate, isolate and characterize the fungi found there. The final purpose is to investigate these microorganisms' ecological role and to find out if they benefit or harm the L. lecocarpoides population in its regeneration process.

Punta Manzanillo field trip on Española Island to assess L. lecocarpoides population. Photo: Tui De Roy.
Punta Manzanillo field trip on Española Island to assess L. lecocarpoides population. Photo: Tui De Roy.
Soil and L. lecocarpoides seed sampling at Punta Manzanillo, Española. Photo: Anna Calle, CDF.
Soil and L. lecocarpoides seed sampling at Punta Manzanillo, Española. Photo: Anna Calle, CDF.

I already sound like a scientist, don’t I? Suddenly, microbiology arrived to the Galapagos Verde 2050 program, and the scientists I admired as a child were putting their trust, resources, and time on me, so that I could join research that had never been done before on Española island. Now I'm doing science! Doing my bit for the conservation of my home, which is severely threatened by several factors.

Fungi pure cultures isolated from soil and seeds from L. lecocarpoides habitat. Photo: Liliana Jaramillo, CDF.
Fungi pure cultures isolated from soil and seeds from L. lecocarpoides habitat. Photo: Liliana Jaramillo, CDF.

There is so much to research and so much to do. All we need is to encourage local young people to get involved with science in Galapagos. The community goal should be to make our islands an iconic place worldwide, not only for its endemic flora and fauna and wonderful landscapes but also for achieving a balance of urban development with the conservation of this Natural World Heritage Site, as declared by UNESCO. Galapagos Verde 2050 program is aimed at reaching this goal, and I could not be prouder to be part of a program that goes with my way of living. Respecting nature, taking care of it, and preserving it, is our responsibility.

The research was possible because of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and its park rangers, especially Jefreys Malaga, who support us on every expedition, and the Agency for Regulation and Control of Biosecurity and Quarantine for Galapagos (ABG) for its exhaustive review of the Española Island samples. In addition, the COmON Foundation makes the program continue with the necessary resources to bring ecological restoration to the archipelago's remote islands. Finally, it is necessary to mention that this research would not have been possible without all GV2050 team collaboration, especially Anna Calle, who was immersed in this research from the beginning, Paul Mayorga, who provided all the support in the field, and Patricia Jaramillo Díaz who leads the GV2050 program and its seven research projects.

Following nine weeks camping in the remote northwest of Isabela Island, Galapagos, the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park Directorate Mangrove Finch Project field team returned to Puerto Ayora, after carrying out the annual activities for the conservation of the mangrove finch. This is the most threatened bird species in the Galapagos with an estimated 100 individuals and fewer than 15 breeding pairs, all which occupy only 30 hectares of mangrove habitat.
Currently the greatest threat faced by the mangrove finch comes from the avian vampire fly “Philornis downsi”, an introduced species, the larvae of which feed on the blood of chicks, causing extremely high mortality.
Since 2007 the Mangrove Finch Project, a bi institutional initiative of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Directorate, has carried out conservation management to protect this highly threatened species. This has included the effective control of introduced rats that previously predated many nests.

Male feeding female in the nest. Photo: Agustín Gutiérrez, CDF.
Male feeding female in the nest. Photo: Agustín Gutiérrez, CDF.

This year, to help ensure that the highest number of chicks could fledge successfully, the field team once again focussed their work on protecting mangrove finch chicks in their natural habitat. During the field season they found twenty-five nests, of which, to reduce the impact from avian vampire fly larvae, they carefully injected the base of fifteen with an organic based insecticide. In addition, to protect eggs from predation, the team carried out introduced rat control, servicing the 214 enclosed bait stations twice throughout the field trip.

“During this 2022 field season we documented 12 mangrove finch breeding pairs and observed the successful fledging of two nests, resulting in four chicks” said Ibeth Alarcón, Junior Investigator with the Mangrove Finch Project at the Charles Darwin Foundation.

“It is encouraging to have received confirmation that two individuals that fledged from treated nests in 2018 and 2019, were breeding in 2022. This demonstrates that the technique can increase the population, currently so reduced that every single bird is valuable” emphasises Francesca Cunninghame, Mangrove Finch Project Leader at the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Jimmy Navas approaches a nest. Photo: Ibeth Alarcón, CDF.
Jimmy Navas approaches a nest. Photo: Ibeth Alarcón, CDF.

Due to the characteristics of the mangrove trees, in which mangrove finches nest up to 20m high in the canopy at the tips of thin branches, it is a challenge to be able to protect them. For this reason, the team once again repeated trials using dispensers containing insecticide treated nesting material (feathers, cotton fibre, sisal, coconut fibre), to further determine whether this could provide an alternative technique to reduce parasitism of chicks in the nest. Unfortunately, the mangrove finches showed no interest in incorporating nest material in their nests and at this stage the technique does not appear to be viable for this species.
During the 2022 season three older males were observed nesting, all in pairs where fertile eggs were produced. This demonstrates that while mangrove finch conservation is challenging and the species is vulnerable, the long life expectancy, combined with the high annual survival of mature birds can enable the presence of breeding pairs in future years that can benefit from our Project’s conservation management actions.

Jonathan Cueva birding. Photo: Ibeth Alarcón, CDF.
Jonathan Cueva birding. Photo: Ibeth Alarcón, CDF.

Significant effort and dedication are required from the team throughout the field season and the commitment from all members was evident. At the same time the team increased their practical skills in tree climbing techniques for conservation purposes. Although demanding, we are committed to continue to prioritise intensive management for every single mangrove finch chick until an effective large-scale control for the avian vampire fly is developed. Our conservation aims need to be maintained as a joint effort to protect the mangrove finch from extinction.

It wasn’t even 8 a.m. on July 22nd 2022, and the first group of students arrived at the welcome tent to visit our 2022 Open House. We had a group of 10-year old’s, who were happy to take the tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) to learn in detail about the projects we carry out at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) for the benefit of the conservation of Galapagos species.

Visitors to the Open House were also able to learn about the CDF's Natural History Collections. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.
Visitors to the Open House were also able to learn about the CDF's Natural History Collections. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.

Little by little, more and more students from different schools and ages arrived to be part of this unique experience that we prepare annually for our community. Approximately 1,013 people visited the ECCD on this day, including students, teachers, public and private employees, national tourists, foreigners, NGOs and citizens.

Most of the attendees were educational institutions. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.
Most of the attendees were educational institutions. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.

The overall reception was great, our scientists were ecstatic to talk about there their work in the Galapagos Islands to contribute to their preservation. In the same way, at the gastronomic fair, entrepreneurs provided delicious locally produced food. We had spaces dedicated to theater, art, and painting, and also had visitors delighted to develop their skills during the morning and afternoon.

The projects presented at the Open House. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.
The projects presented at the Open House. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.
The Native Action team presented the play
The Native Action team presented the play "Stop Inva-Zor". Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.

The Charles Darwin Foundation was founded on the 23rd of July 1959 as a non-profit organization with the goal of providing knowledge and support through scientific research and complementary actions to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity of the Galapagos Archipelago. In commemoration of one more anniversary of the hard work that scientists and administrative staff develop daily for 63 years, the CDF Open House is held year after year to show the results of all the efforts of this great team that is formed mostly by local human talent.

The Subtidal Ecological Monitoring project team presenting this year's results and progress. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.
The Subtidal Ecological Monitoring project team presenting this year's results and progress. Photo: Rashid Cruz, CDF.

We appreciate your visit, participation and interest in learning more about the CDF and its Research Station. We are always open to receive and support you from our field. We express our consideration and gratitude to the institutions and enterprises that were part of this year of our Open House 2022.

We share with you the 360 Tour of our Open House 2022!

Design: Boris Herrera, CDF.

On July 22nd we will be pleased to welcome you to our 2022 Open House. In this annual event, we want to share with you in an interactive and dynamic way all the research projects that are part of the Charles Darwin Research Station.
The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) carries out this activity as part of its 63rd anniversary of contributing to science and research in Galapagos.
This year, we have prepared a great event and have invited local entrepreneurs and initiatives aligned with the conservation of the islands. We will also have an art space for children.
These are the projects and areas that will be exhibited on this special day:
Marine Birds
Fisheries
Marine Invasive Species
Tortoise Program
Terrestrial Invasive Species and Vegetation Mapping
Galapagos Verde 2050
Landbirds and Mangrove Finch
Avian Vampire Fly
Shark Ecology
Subtidal Ecological Monitoring
Sea turtles
Natural History Collections
Library
Volunteers and Scholarships

The CDF Open House will be held at the ECCD facilities. Design: Boris Herrera, CDF.
The CDF Open House will be held at the ECCD facilities. Design: Boris Herrera, CDF.

The presentations will be given by the scientists of each of the projects who will share the results of their research with the attendees. Their stands will be distributed around our Research Station. In addition, we will host a theater play (Acción Nativa), yoga and the participation of the Casa de la Cultura. During the Open House, which will be from 08:00 to 16:00, you will be able to enjoy locally produced food, thanks to the presentation of community enterprises such as Nero, Atún sin Lata, Pan y Salsa, Sweet Baked and 1835 Coffee Lab.
Our Shark Ambassadors Science Club will have a special space of environmental awareness, where they will share the lessons learned during this year.
In the morning, we will be welcoming schools, while in the afternoon, public and private institutions, NGOs, and the general public will be able to visit us, with the aim of enhancing the attendance experience.
We cordially invite everyone to learn more about CDF and its links to research and science in Galapagos.

Open House 2022 presentation circuit map. Design: Boris Herrera and Emily Mcfarling, CDF.

Welcome!

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

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