Research

Through research, we provide timely information in order to help protect, manage and maintain the unique ecosystems and conservation of Galapagos.
 

Decades ago, the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, through the Charles Darwin Scientific Station, has developed research to provide scientific evidence and to support decision making in the Galapagos Islands. At the beginning, the science was developed by mainly paying attention to the natural systems of this Archipelago. Later, the priorities and urgencies of knowledge determined that the research format in Galapagos needed to be adjusted, into a more inclusive approach. It was highlighted that the human dimensions needed to be addressed, in order to better understand and identify alternatives to deal with the challenges to the conservation and sustainability in Galapagos.

Since the Cooperation Agreement with the Ecuadorian State was renewed in 2016, a change was introduced at conceiving and developing our scientific endeavors. Then, a conceptual, methodological, and shifting of principles took place, and a reformulation in our research objectives and priorities was promoted. It was thus the starting point, at re-setting the research initiatives at CDRS towards a more holistic and integrative approach. Then, we identified the urgency to give the social systems the same treatment and the same interest, as research objectives, as those given to the natural systems. After that reflection, the research initiatives, it was planned, will integrate, as much as possible, a component integrating the role human beings play in the conservation and desired sustainability for Galapagos Islands.

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From now onwards, the science that CDRS will perform, will face many critical aspects. The human population increase in the Archipelago, the steady increase in tourists, the demand for goods and services by the local inhabitants, the increasing usage of resources, among others, are arguments to claim that a wider and more solid research agenda is needed at the CDRS. It becomes explicit that, it is necessary to open doors that have remained closed, and to look out of the disciplinary borders. Only through diverse and integrative perspectives will it be possible to better understand the problems and adapt to the changes we all face.

Our Active Research Projects in Galapagos

Currently, we manage over 20 projects and they are led by a committed team of scientists and supported by resourceful administrative staff.

Many fieldwork conditions are extreme and include intense heat, tricky boat maneuvering, or treks through thorny blackberry thickets. Our incredible team at the Charles Darwin Research Station is passionate about the work it does and is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure Galapagos is preserved for future generations.

Conservation of Threatened Populations of Small Land Birds

Conservation of Threatened Populations of Small Land Birds

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.

Control of the Invasive Parasitic Fly Philornis downsi

Control of the Invasive Parasitic Fly Philornis downsi

Twenty Galapagos bird species, including 12 species of Darwin’s finches, are under threat from a parasitic fly, Philornis downsi. This fly was accidentally introduced to Galapagos and is seriously affecting the survivorship of several Galapagos birds including the critically endangered Mangrove Finch. Flies are adept at locating bird nests to lay their eggs. Once larvae hatch they feed on the blood of hatchlings, sometimes causing all of the chicks in a nest to die.

In order to reduce the impact of Philornis downsi on birds, CDF and the Galapagos National Park Directorate are overseeing a multi-institutional collaborative effort (now up to 22 institutions from ten countries) that is investigating the biology and ecology of this little-known fly, while simultaneously conducting research to find effective and environmentally friendly control methods.

Ecology, Assessment and Management of Fisheries

Ecology, Assessment and Management of 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

Galápagos Verde 2050

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.

Invasive Marine Species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Invasive Marine Species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve

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 Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Mapping Invasive Plant Species using Drone and Satellite Images

Mapping Invasive Plant Species using Drone and Satellite Images

With the help of high resolution drone and satellite images, we created maps of the distribution and density of several invasive plant species in the humid zone of the different islands in the archipelago. This information is important to be able to plan control actions of those species that negatively affect the native species. In addition, it also helps to identify high priority conservation areas for the protection of endangered plant and animal species.

The most invasive plant species in the humid zone of the Galapagos islands are blackberry (Rubus niveus), guava (Psidium guajava), Cuban cedar (Cedrela odorata), elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and quinine (Cinchona pubescens). The distributions of these species were determined using satellite images by ground-truthing colour profiles, using drone images of areas with known vegetation types. The resulting maps for the Galapagos National Park area allow us to estimate the cover of these species with an accuracy of 80-90%.

Movement Ecology Programme for the Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Movement Ecology Programme for the Galapagos Giant Tortoise

The giant tortoise movements in Galapagos have a fundamental role in mantaining a healthy population. Understanding the ecological implications of these movements allows us to reduce the potential and real threats to their conservation.

The Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme (GTMEP) is a collaborative effort between the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Saint Louis Zoo, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) and Houston Zoo.

Population Assessment of Marine Birds

Population Assessment of Marine Birds

The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), flightless cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi) and Galapagos waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) 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.

Population Status, Habitat Usage, Connectivity, and Migration Routes of Sharks

Population Status, Habitat Usage, Connectivity, and Migration Routes of 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.

Protection and Recovery of Mangrove Finch Population

Protection and Recovery of Mangrove Finch Population

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).

Reducing the Threats for Sea Turtles

Reducing the Threats for Sea 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.

Reseach to Assess the Mortality of Landbirds by Car Collisions in Santa Cruz Island

Reseach to Assess the Mortality of Landbirds by Car Collisions in Santa Cruz Island

The incidence of collisions between birds and cars in the road between Puerto Ayora and Canal de Itabaca, seems rather high. The assessment of the frequency on which these events happen, would enable to illustrate areas with higher incidence, and some mechanisms to mitigate this problem.

This project aims to offer evidence on what, where, when, these events occur, and to suggest alternatives to diminish it.

Research of Distribution of the Introduced Treefrog

Research of Distribution of the Introduced Treefrog

Fowler’s Snouted Treefrog (Scinax quinquefasciatus) 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).

Restoration of the Los Gemelos Ecosystem

Restoration of the Los Gemelos Ecosystem

The vegetation coverage of the native forests in Los Gemelos zone, has suffered signficant reduction in the last years. The Gemelos is an area of two volcanic craters located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. This project aims to better understand the mechanisms to improve the restoration capacity of these zones by analizing the factors that compromise this capacity.

Native species in Galapagos have been seriously affected by the changes in the uses of the land in the past, and most recently by invasive species. The Scalesia habitat has been drastically reduced in Santa Cruz which was dominated by Scalesia pendunculata that now it is estimated to cover less than 1% of its original distribution. The best example remains in this area of Los Gemelos, an area of 100 hectares and which is the focus of all the restoration efforts of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (DPNG).

Seamounts of the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Seamounts of the Galapagos Marine Reserve

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.

Subtidal Ecological Monitoring

Subtidal Ecological Monitoring

The Ecological Monitoring Program was developed to provide the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) with a complete description of this community and to provide information on the dynamics and magnitude of the fluctuations of this biota through space and time, while incorporating natural and anthropogenic effects such as climate change.

The long-term scale of the Subtidal Ecological Monitoring program in Galapagos, has enabled the recognition of patterns and processes that are of fundamental importance in the coastal-marine ecosystems.

By looking at the subtidal ecological condition would illustrate the current threats and risks to which these ecosystems are most exposed to, and the mechanisms to mitigate/minimize them.

Conservation of Threatened Populations of Small Land Birds
Control of the Invasive Parasitic Fly Philornis downsi
Ecology, Assessment and Management of Fisheries
Galápagos Verde 2050
Invasive Marine Species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve
Mapping Invasive Plant Species using Drone and Satellite Images
Movement Ecology Programme for the Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Population Assessment of Marine Birds
Population Status, Habitat Usage, Connectivity, and Migration Routes of Sharks
Protection and Recovery of Mangrove Finch Population
Reducing the Threats for Sea Turtles
Reseach to Assess the Mortality of Landbirds by Car Collisions in Santa Cruz Island
Research of Distribution of the Introduced Treefrog
Restoration of the Los Gemelos Ecosystem
Seamounts of the Galapagos Marine Reserve
Subtidal Ecological Monitoring

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.