Water flow and the soil below

By. Diana Ochoa

You will probably hear me say this a lot in the future, but the Galápagos Islands are an excellent model ecosystem. It is a relatively new archipelago, located in the middle of the tropics and mostly undisturbed by humans. Geologically they are also very interesting. They continually sprout from a volcanic hotspot, over millions of years move with the tectonic plates and the entire time develop new niches for some of the most spectacular species of animals and plants that continue to evolve in front of our eyes. Their chronosequence, the slow development of forests over time, can be effectively teach us a lot about soil formation, how the water moves across a altitudinal gradient and how these natural processes are impacted by anthropogenic interference. In a small scale, they can help us understand processes that could affect fresh water production in the whole of the tropics. Galápagos is unique and special without a doubt.

© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

The volcanic hotspot of the Galápagos islands is located to the west of the archipelago, where the island of Fernandina is currently sits on. They all have the same bedrock foundation but the chronosequence of each island ranges from older to newer depending on when they formed. This can tell us a lot about the geological historical patterns and structure of soil formation and rooting. Larger islands have a distinct altitudinal gradient that range from very arid to very humid. This generates a range of microclimates, as well as different soil types and densities all of which have an effect on water movement across the gradient.

Research carried out in collaboration with the GSC by Percy et al. (2010) describe how The difference in the soil water content across elevations on Galápagos not only has implications for agricultural practices… but also provides an excellent opportunity for an analogous site in the tropics of spatially intensive soil moisture observations”. The goal is to understand things like underground aquifers, formation of soil and soil erosion, how precipitation levels and fog determine the type of soil in relation to altitude. But also to understand what the effects of larger climatic events like ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) and ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) have on the water cycle. These, as models, can help us understand better how to best preserve fresh water sources for in the Galápagos but applicable worldwide.

© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Fog is a very important component of high elevation ecosystems in the Galápagos. It promotes rain in the intermediate zones, where most of the agriculture takes place. Land use has changed over the years, many farms have been abandoned and invasive plants are taking over these cleared spaces. Also, the increase in tourism means more infrastructure and a greater demand for water and goods. These disturbances all have direct and indirect impacts on hydrological processes and the partitioning of precipitation into evapotranspiration, runoff, and groundwater recharge” affirm the authors. If the fog goes, so do the best lands for food provision. Changing soil use to the extent where the water cycle is permanently disturbed could have disastrous consequences. Luckily for us (for the beautiful tropics and our future generations), we are gaining better understanding of this everyday.

But, conclusive decisions need to be turned into effective action fast. As climate change begins to feel more real everyday, we must ensure our fresh water sources are well managed. It is now in all of us to make sure we take care of every drop we use.

 

Reference

Percy, M.S., Schmitt, S.R., Riveros-Iregui, D.A. & Mirus, B.B. 2016. The Galápagos archipelago: a natural laboratory to examine sharp hydroclimatic, geologic and anthropogenic gradients. WIREs Water. 3:587–600. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1145.

Just another day in the life of the Galápagos Sea Lion

By. Diana Ochoa

For the Galápagos Sea Lion (GSL) living with humans is an every day adventure. In many islands on the Galápagos, sea lions share their natural habitat with human settlements. This is particularly enchanting in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristóbal where a large reproductive colony around 500 strong dive, swim and sunbathe with residents and visitors. They are famously known for not being aggressive and no evolutionary fear of humans has really ever developed on this animals. But, could this be changing?

©DianaOchoa

©DianaOchoa

The Galápagos Sea Lion, in spite of it’s many charms it remains a wild and endangered species. They suffered a 50% population slump due to two particularly strong “El Niño“ events and population numbers across the archipelago have not recovered. As human settlements grow larger, the number of interactions also increases and with this we have to also take into account the negative ones. There are reported incidences of propeller and fishing related injuries as well as being exposed to domestic pet pathogens. Few misinformed tourists have before touched the young and unfortunately these once isolated incidents are increasing in occurrence. Despite them seemingly well accustomed to humans, the number of factors that could affect these population and species is constantly increasing.

Fortunately, the GSL receives a lot of attention not just from tourist but from researchers too. On San Cristóbal Island a number of studies on behaviour, diet, reproductive rate, endocrinology and immunology indicate that the GSL is very resilient to change, they can adapt their diet to environmental fluctuations and find new breeding sites if their old one no longer feels suitable. However, they also report that the population on Puerto Baquerizo Moreno may be feeling the effects of stress compared to a populations that don’t live with humans.

All these, although it can sound negative, it has a silver lining. The more we know about the dynamics of this population the better policies can be established to protect and conserve the entire species. It is important to consider that tourism in key in the Galapagos economy and it’s wildlife is the most important selling point. As the GSL is very near the top of the trophic chain, protecting their populations will have wider umbrella effect to all other species lower down in the chain and even across taxa.

Incentives by the Association of Natural Guides of the Galápagos Islands have recently moved towards banning pyrotechnic displays in the Galápagos. Over the years this has been a controversial topic but it is beginning to be discussed and that is most important. Residents and visitors have long reported the distressing response of GSL to fireworks. It is a difficult sight to witness and we can expect it to affect other species too. As researchers we must support and encourage conservation efforts on behalf of the local people. This time it may be the GSL leading the fuss but this can only be good for all the Galápagos fragile species.

 

References

Brock, P.M., Hall, A.J., Goodman, S.J., Cruz, M. & Acevedo-Whitehouse, K. 2012. Applying the Tools of Ecological Immunology to Conservation: A test case in the Galapagos Sea Lion. Animal Conservation. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2012.00567.x

Denkinger, J., Gordillo, L., Montero-Serra, I., Murillo, J.C., Guevara, N., Hirschfield, M., Fietz, K., Rubianes, F. & Dan, M. 2015. Urban life of Galapagos Sea Lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) on San Cristobal Island, Ecuador: colony trends and threats. Journal of Sea Research. 105:10-14.

DPNG – Dirección Nacional del Parque Nacional Galápagos. 2015. Censos Poblacionales de Zalophus wollebaeki. Oficina Técnica de San Cristóbal – Galapagos, Ecuador.

Fietz, K. 2012. General Behavioural Patterns and Human Impact on Behaviour of the Galápagos Sea Lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) on San Cristóbal, Galápagos. MSc. thesis Departament of Animal Ecology and Conservation at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

Ochoa, D. 2015. Identificación y Cuantificación de Metabolitos Fecales de Cortisol en Zalophus wolleabaeki en la isla San Cristóbal Galápagos. Tesis BSc. Universidad San Francisco de Quito-Ecuador.  http://bib.usfq.edu.ec/F/EGT8VTMT74ATVED7HJ29MXI1YP5VPAYAK9PHVIXDDGJVCT4KFP-44438?func=full-set-set&set_number=005826&set_entry=000004&format=999.

Páez-Rosas, D. & Aurioles-Gamboa, D. 2010. Alimentary niche partitioning in the Galapagos sea lion, Zalophus wollebaeki. Marine Biology. 157:2769-81. DOI 10.1007/s00227-010-1535-0

Trillmich, F. 2015. Zalophus wollebaeki. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:e.T41668A45230540 http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T41668A45230540.en.

Evolution in motion…the on-going case of Darwin’s Finches

By. Diana Ochoa

Darwin’s finches are some of the best-known species from the Galápagos Islands. They have helped us understand adaptive radiation, the process by which many species can arise from one original ancestor. In the Galápagos Islands, since the colonization of their nearest ancestor 2.75 MYA Darwin’s finches have radiated into the 14 separate species we know today.

©AndrewHendry https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrew_hendry/sets/72157630674824638/with/7605250774/

©AndrewHendry https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrew_hendry/sets/72157630674824638/with/7605250774/

Three sympatric species of Geospiza finches in El Garrapatero on Santa Cruz Island are an excellent example of radiation and speciation in process. G.fuliginosa (small), G.fortis (medium) and G.magnirostris (large) ground finches are at the tip of the evolutionary branches and as such they are relatively new species. The on-going variation in their adaptive trait – their beaks – continues to diverge under natural selection pressures. A newly published study by Chaves et al. (2016) found that only 11 out of 32 569 SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphism) or very minute regions of the genome are related to beak shape and body size on all three species. This is a very small number of SNP’s for such a significant trait.

RAD-Seq is a new technique that allows us to find markers on an entire genome. The authors found that some of the 11 SNP’s are located near genes previously known to be involved in the radiation of beak morphology across Darwin’s finches, but others are not. So some may influence divergence in the macro (genera) and in the micro (speciation) scales. How these are expressed is due to a combination of breeding selection and/or environmental pressures.

©AndrewHendry https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrew_hendry/sets/72157630674824638/with/7605250774/

©AndrewHendry https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrew_hendry/sets/72157630674824638/with/7605250774/

In songbirds speciation involves species-specific song learning and physical recognition. Should these queues be confused, they could act as reproductive barriers. But if appearance is too similar or the wrong song is imprinted it can lead to hybridisation. Interestingly G.fortis birds have the genetic and morphological evidence of hybridisation between these three species. Genetic compatibility exists and speciation in this case is as yet incomplete. This can increase genetic variation in either direction it goes and “it can mediate early stages of ecological speciation at the tips the radiation”. Natural selection has acted upon Darwin’s finches during our lifetimes and it will continue to do so given the ever-changing environmental conditions. It will never cease to be fascinating seeing how genes and natural environmental unpredictability keep evolution in motion.

 

 

 

Reference

Chaves, J.A., Cooper, E.A., Hendry, A.P., Podos, J., De León, L.F., Raeymaekers, J.A., MacMillan, W.O. and Uy, J.A.C., 2016. Genomic variation at the tips of the adaptive radiation of Darwin’s finches. Molecular Ecology. doi: 10.1111/mec.13743

Workforce dynamics in the Galápagos Islands: How agricultural empowerment can aid conservation

By: Diana Ochoa

The Galapagos Islands are unique beyond their natural components. Human populations on the islands are the most important authority in the conservation and management of this fragile place. Only 3% of the entire archipelago has been designated for settlements and agriculture. This space has to be carefully managed in order to maximise productivity but also minimise negative impact.

Fishing, tourism and agriculture are the economic foundation of the people in the Galápagos. As the demand on tourism increases, the workforce dynamics have shifted towards this most profitable industry and it has implications that go much further than simply changing jobs. Models run by Steve Walsh and his team from the University of North Carolina at Chappel Hill help us understand how this shift in work dynamics can have an effect in the economic sustainability of the islanders and how this can also reduce the spread of the Guava.

http://www.gobiernogalapagos.gob.ec/gobierno-de-galapagos-avanza-en-elaboracion-de-propuesta-de-zonificacion-agricola-2/

http://www.gobiernogalapagos.gob.ec/gobierno-de-galapagos-avanza-en-elaboracion-de-propuesta-de-zonificacion-agricola-2/

The Guava is one of the most invasive plant species in the Galápagos Islands. Without management this species can easily and quickly spread, especially in those areas where native vegetation has been cleared to make room for crops. The eradication of this plant is labour intensive and as such, expensive.

Today, many fishing vessels are preferring exchanging their licenses for tourism patents and farmers are abandoning lands in favour of other ventures, like restaurants, hotels or other tourism related employment. The study revealed that the tourism guides the dynamics of employment and self-employment but it also showed that empowering farmers would have positive economic and environmental impacts.

As farmers are better rewarded, by receiving subsidies on the costs of the Guava eradication, agricultural productivity increases thus lowering the cost of living, making the islands more economically sustainable. Similarly, the effects of needing lesser goods brought from the continent reduce the probability of introducing more alien species. As agricultural lands come back into use, the Guava becomes better managed it reduces its unprecedented spread.

Although most importantly, empowering farmers has an even greater social impact. The interactions between man and nature are complex but this can be very positive for both if correctly guided. Promoting better living standards are the foundation of a stable economic society and this has escalating impacts across industries and generations. Rewards are seen not just in monetary but in their quality of life. Empowerment means better opportunities for the entire community and not just for the farmers.

 

Reference

Walsh, S.J., Miller,B.W., Breckheimer, I., McCleary, A.L., Guzman-Ramirez,L., Caplow, S.C., & Jones-Smith,J.C. 2009. Complexity theory and spatial simulation models to assess populationenvironment interactions in the Galapagos Islands. Short Papers. Galapagos Science Symposium.  https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Walsh6/publication/228534148_Complexity_theory_and_spatial_simulation_models_to_assess_population-environment_interactions_in_the_Galapagos_Islands/links/0deec524ecc74eb0fe000000.pdf.

Endemic Gardens at GSC

Endemic Gardens at GSC

Going Even Greener… Literally!

In sync with our ongoing mission and responsibility of conserving the environment, the GSC is thrilled to be able to collaborate with likeminded individuals and groups. So far four endemic gardens have been planted by the USFQ Eco Club called Mar y Tierra .These students have created their own nonprofit organization, with the mission to create positive change with regard to the conservation of the environment of San Cristobal and the Galápagos.

Their objectives are to raise awareness about the importance of caring for the flora, fauna, research sustainable development alternatives and put them into practice.

They promote activities involving citizens working with the theory of teaching and motivating through example while also using information from scientific research to guide their projects.

The proceeds of certain activities, like these endemic gardens, provide sustainability for the clubs existence and allows them to continue to grow and strengthen their positive impact on the community and the environment.

Seminars for the Tourism Sector, Ministry of Tourism

Seminars for the Tourism Sector, Ministry of Tourism

The Dirección Técnica Provincial del Ministerio de Turismo en Galápagos identified the need to provide adequate training to the tourism sector. Through a coordinated effort with the Ministry of Tourism and the USFQ School of Business a seminar series was created for tour operators to strengthen their skills and abilities to improve all activities related to tourism service process,. The Tourism Service Training program was held at eh GSC beginning on October 22, with a duration of 64 hours spread over 16 sessions of 4 hours each. Modules included topics of Motivation, Career Self-Management Service, Customer Service, Understanding Patterns of Behavior, Effective Communication, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution.

The twenty one participants showed interest in the issues and their individual and group participation was very valuable. Seminar programs such as this are the driving force that will strengthen the business development sector, resulting in a range of high quality tourism services, to meet domestic and foreign tourists who visit the island province of Galapagos

Early Childhood Education, Workshops with IDEA

In order to show our genuine interest for community development and education, we kick started our program with a work shop for teachers and general public. Claudia Tobar, from USFQ´s IDEA, spent the weekend of July 22-24, 2012 connecting with local parents and teachers to offer them a new perspective on Early Childhood Education.

This workshop provided tools and strategies for teachers to achieve a higher reading comprehension level for their students, and to promote what an important habi reading is– explaining the neurological benefits of reading in the early years.

Claudia also pinpointed some myths and truths of early stimulation: Early stimulation is a term very common today in the development of children during their first five years. There are some myths about the benefits of educational services or products of teaching on this subject. Movement in the classroom was another focus of this weekend´s event. Recent brain research reveals the importance of movement for a more meaningful learning. This workshop tries to spread the spirit of action and movement in the classroom taking into account differentiated instruction.

The relationship with the Galapagos community is very important

The relationship with the Galapagos community is very important. That is the reason why the GSC does articulated work with the Galapagos National Park, The Galapagos Regional Government Council, the Municipality of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the Charles Darwin Station, and many others, with whom it collaborates. More importantly, however, is the direct interaction with the community, through guides associations, fishermen, parents, etc., who provide feedback to the education and research processes.

Volunteer opportunities:

If you wish to do volunteer in Galapagos, please contact our Facility and Outreach Coordinator.