Juan Manuel Garcia-CDF

Natural History Collections

The Charles Darwin Research Station is home to the largest Natural History Collections of endemic, native and introduced species of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. It is also one of the largest in the world with over 135,000 specimens from more than 7,500 species.

Natural History Collections

A Valuable Resource of the Galapagos Biota

The Natural History Collections (Collections) 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.
They serve not only as a repository of known species, but also as a reservoir of historic information on distributions and ranges, and possible new identifications waiting to be processed that could lead to the discovery of new species for science. Additionally, the specimens are also a reference for broader taxonomic studies, and for reports of introduced and invasive species.
Juan Manuel Garcia-CDF

Specimens are used by researchers, staff, government agencies like the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Biosecurity and Quarantine for Galapagos (ABG); specimens are also shared with researchers globally. This facilitates scientific studies that enhance our understanding of the distribution, ecology, and diversity of the Galapagos biota.

Maintaining the Collections

As custodians of the Collections for the Government of Ecuador, we are dedicated to the maintenance and improvement of this unique resource.

All Collections are kept in climate-controlled spaces with cool temperatures and low humidity, and are monitored for pests and fungi. These maintenance tasks are necessary due to the challenges of the archipelago’s tropical environment, and are conducted regularly.

New specimens are tagged and cataloged in our database, with digital records made available online as the Galapagos Species Database on the Charles Darwin Research Station's (CDRS) dataZone portal.

Accessing the Collections

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 provided by the GNPD.

Loaning Physical Specimens

The loan of physical specimens from the Collections can be made to qualified individuals and institutions who adhere to strict requirements for permitting, shipping, upkeep and returns.

To request access to the Collections and its specimens, please complete this form and email it to our principal curator.

Andrea Acurio

The Collections

The four collections - Herbarium, Vertebrate, Terrestrial Invertebrate, and Marine - currently comprise more than 135,000 specimens from more than 7,500 species. Each year, more specimens are added. Just in 2022, more than 3,300 new specimens were added to our collections.

From ant specimens to the Galapagos dove, the Collections provide an unparalleled record of Galapagos biodiversity and species occurrence that stretches back over 60 years.

Access our online Galapagos Species Database

Rashid Cruz-CDF

Herbarium Collection

Specimens: 47,000+ | Species: 3,600+ | Since: 1994

Curator: Patricia Jaramillo Díaz

More about the Herbarium Collection

While the Herbarium was fully formalized in 1994, it has been in place since the early years of CDRS, and is today home to over 47,000 specimens. Of these, 80% are vascular plants and the remaining 20% cryptogams (non-vascular plants and plant-like organisms such as lichens,algae and fungi). Each year, around 1,000 new specimens are added.

The majority of these specimens are native to the Galapagos Islands. However, the Herbarium also includes invasive species that are now a part of the Galapagos flora, and specimens of plants from the Ecuadorian mainland which are a resource for studies of diversity and can aid in identification.

In addition to whole-organism and partial specimens, representative examples of fruits, seeds and pollen are collected and cataloged in the Herbarium. These can be used for identification purposes and in studies of plant-animal interactions, pollination, etc. Photographs and micrographs are also cataloged to complement physical specimens.

Specimens are preserved according to internationally accepted practices, and are housed in dedicated, climate-controlled laboratory facilities. Digitization of specimen records using “HerbScan” equipment is ongoing, with 99% of all specimens in the Herbarium digitally cataloged and available online as the Galapagos Species Database on CDRS' dataZone portal.

Juan Manuel Garcia-CDF

Vertebrate Collection

Specimens: 2,500+ | Species: 170+ | Since: 1962

Curator: Miguel Pinto

More About the Vertebrate Collection

Vertebrate specimens including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are included in our Vertebrate Collection. While cataloging started in 1962, progress for the cataloging of full organisms is limited due to conservation concerns and regulations of the GNP.

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 GNPD. Once the individual is collected, CDRS staff will perform a necropsy, and genetic and histopathology samples are taken. If necessary, pathogen analyses are also conducted before the organism is taxidermized. 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 have also been digitally cataloged and available online as the Galapagos Species Database on CDRS' dataZone portal.

Juan Manuel Garcia-CDF

Terrestrial Invertebrate Collection

Specimens: 75,600+ | Species: 1,700+ | Since: 1964

Curator: Lenyn Betancourt

More About the Terrestrial Invertebrate Collection

51% percent of the biodiversity in the Galapagos consists of insects, so it is no surprise that the Terrestrial Invertebrate Collection is the largest of the Natural History Collections. It contains over 75,600 specimens, of which the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Formicidae (ants) form the largest part of the collection.

In keeping with the status of the Galapagos as arguably the most significant natural history laboratory of speciation, we also house 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, and placed in envelopes or preserved in alcohol.

Around 5% of the wet, and 57% of the dry, specimens in the collection have been digitally cataloged and available online as the Galapagos Species Database on CDRS' dataZone portal. The digitization of older specimens is ongoing.

Rashid Cruz-CDF

Marine Collection

Specimens: 12,300+ | Species: 1,900+ | Since: 2008

Curator: Paulina Sepa-Egas

More About the Marine Collection

Initiated in 2008, the Marine Collection is the youngest of the Natural History Collections, and currently has over 12,300 specimens of marine organisms, from small invertebrates to fishes. We expect that this collection will grow greatly in the near future because of the renewed efforts in the exploration of the Galápagos waters, from the shores to the deep seas.

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.


The dataZone houses a suite of applications granting access to over 60 years of scientific research data accumulated in various databases about the Galapagos Islands.
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Academic Collaborations

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Science Strategy

Understand how we will focus our research and conservation agenda for the next 5 years in our quest to tackle the greatest and most urgent threats and challenges to Galapagos.
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