Miriam San José-CDF


Active since 2014

Scalesia forests once thrived on the Galapagos Islands, forming a unique humid ecosystem for plants, insects, giant tortoises and birds. Today, only 1% of the forests’ original distribution remains, with several endemic species, including the Scalesia themselves, struggling to survive. We are working to restore this important habitat and given the rapid rate of forest loss, it is a race against time.

Heinke Jäger-CDF

The Challenge

The endemic Scalesia genus that belongs to the Asteraceae or sunflower family consists of 15 species, most of which are shrubs. Three species grow as trees up to 15 meter tall, aptly termed “giant daisy trees”. Some are unique to a single island, such as the endangered Scalesia cordata, found only on the southern part of Isabela Island.

Like Darwin’s finches, the different species have adapted to the different vegetation zones found on each island. Scalesia plants are generally fast growing, with the Scalesia pedunculata growing up to 0.3 cm a day! However, it has a short life cycle of 15-20 years. The species persist by producing numerous seeds that germinate in forest openings. Unfortunately, land clearing for agriculture and fires in the early 20th century caused the initial sharp decline of Scalesia forests across inhabited islands. Today, the main threats are:

Invasive plant species, notably blackberry (Rubus niveus), but also guava (Psidium guajava), sauco (Cestrum auriculatum), and Cuban cedar (Cedrela odorata) which is also commonly known as Cedrela. Blackberry was introduced in 1968 for agricultural purposes but is unsuitable for commercialization. It is highly invasive and forms a dense understory thicket, obstructing sunlight transmission and thus inhibiting the germination of Scalesia seeds, consequently inhibiting Scalesia regeneration. Without Scalesia seedlings, the species will be driven to extinction.

Climate change poses another contemporary threat to Scalesia forests. Intensified weather patterns, characterized by heavier rains and stronger winds during El Niño events, are toppling over trees at an alarming rate, and this is particularly problematic for Scalesia given its shallow rooting system.

Carlos Espinosa-CDF
Restoration work in Los Gemelos, Santa Cruz.
Carlos Espinosa-CDF
Drones are deployed for ecological landscape monitoring.

What We Are Doing

Our restoration work focuses on the four inhabited islands: Floreana, Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal, as well as on the island of Santiago, which is uninhabited. Across these islands, our research includes a mix of the following activities:

Ecological landscape monitoring

We utilize drones and high-resolution satellite imagery to create maps depicting the distribution and abundance of threatened and invasive plant species over time. This approach allows us to identify areas where species are disappearing or invading, aiding in the prioritization of restoration efforts across expansive and hard-to-reach areas.

Conservation and management

We assess the impacts of invasive plants on the native flora and fauna, control invasive plants alongside the Galapagos National Park Directorate, and evaluate these management actions over time.


We grow Scalesia seedlings in greenhouses, replant them in areas that have been cleared of invasive plants, and monitor their survival and growth.

Education and community outreach

We educate local communities about the crucial role of the Scalesia forest ecosystem, and encourage farmers to reintroduce Scalesia on their land.

Carbon capture by Scalesia

We study the carbon capture capacity of Scalesia trees to better understand the underlying mechanisms of energy flow through the forest ecosystem.

Biological control agent for blackberry

Together with the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI) in the UK, we are looking for a suitable long-term biological control agent of the invasive blackberry, Rubus niveus, in Galapagos.


We evaluate how invasive species change the nutrient, bacteria and fungi compositions in the soil.

Program objective

Prevent the extinction of the Scalesia forests on five different islands, to ensure that endemic plant and animal species living there will thrive for generations to come, by using proven conservation methods and by providing key information for management actions.

Why It Matters

Saving a unique habitat

Endemic Scalesia forests are found nowhere else on Earth. It forms a unique ecosystem that provides an important habitat for many endemic plant and animal species. Endemic insects are abundant on the Scalesia trees, where they find shelter and are an important food source for the famous Darwin's finches and the Little Vermilion Flycatcher. Moreover, threatened bird species rely on these trees for nesting.

Scalesia forests offer essential ecosystem services that are crucial for Galapagos' overall health and long-term sustainability. Losing this unique ecosystem and its associated species would be devastating.

Carlos Espinosa-CDF
Arno Cimadom
Miriam San Jose-CDF

Our impact

Preventing the extinction of the unique Scalesia forest

We have started to see encouraging results in our work to halt the decline of Scalesia forests on the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabela. On Isabela, our restoration efforts with Scalesia cordata resulted in the natural regeneration of more than 250 seedlings at five different sites in 2023, where regeneration was previously nil over at least the last ten years. During the same time period, natural regeneration of Scalesia pedunculata has only been observed in areas freed of invasive species, demonstrating the importance of control actions. Similar efforts will very soon be extended to the remaining islands.

Training future conservationists

Since our work began, we have successfully trained numerous students from Galapagos, Ecuador and other countries in ecological methods, critical thinking, field work techniques, and the development of management tools to aid long-term conservation goals.

Understanding underlying invasion mechanisms

Studying the impacts of plant invasions on the Scalesia forests has allowed us to shed light on the mechanism underlying this complex process. This in turn helps us guide management actions in other unique ecosystems in Galapagos and elsewhere.

Obtaining crucial insights on invasive plant species

Through their work, our scientists obtain crucial information about the impacts of invasive species, as well as of the impact of their control, on resident plant and animal species. Understanding these impacts has helped us to minimize impacts on non-target species and prioritize management strategies.

Carlos Espinosa-CDF

Why You Should Support Us

As the only organization in Galapagos that conducts systematic long-term monitoring on the plant and invertebrate communities in these unique ecosystems, our program provides crucial information for the necessary management activities to save the endemic Scalesia forest and its associated species from extinction.

Here are some specific ways how your sponsorship can help:

  • Support our long-term monitoring of plant and invertebrate communities.
  • Fund our long-term efforts to protect the endangered Scalesia species from extinction.
  • Help us plant Scalesia seedlings out in the wild.
  • Support our efforts to train local students.
Rashid Cruz-CDF
CDF's Scalesia forest restoration team together with Galapagos National Park rangers during a 2023 field trip to restore the Scalesia cordata forest in Isabela Island.

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Andres Cruz

Protect Galapagos, Impact the World

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