Barcode Galapagos

The most ambitious citizen science project to document biological life in Galapagos

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The variety of life in a given area is fundamental to ecosystem stability as well as the services it can provide including eco-tourism. However, we have limited knowledge of most of the species that constitute such biodiversity, affecting our complete understanding of speciation as well as implementation of conservation efforts, especially in unique ecosystems like the Galapagos Islands. The only way to solve this issue is through the use of cutting-edge genetic techniques.

First, even for conspicuous animals, such as birds, history has taught us that it is challenging to define a species based on traditional methods. Indeed, molecular genetics has revealed hundreds of new species of birds, and there are thought to be hundreds more to be discovered.  Second, molecular methods allow us to define connectivity between populations, identify races or sub-species and uncover the genetic signature of individuals within a specific area. In turn, these allow us to study speciation in action, population connectedness and threats to population viability, as well as individuals used in captive breeding programmes and even those that are illegally trafficked or caught. Finally, molecular techniques are the fastest way of identifying plankton, the engine of our seas, and the only viable means of estimating the number and signatures of species at the base of the tree of life, e.g. microbes.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has, additionally, revealed that the economic incentives to protect the environment through eco-tourism can be undermined by stochastic events. Inevitably, there will be multiple candidate approaches to alleviating the current predicament of eco-tourism. We propose a new model that involves, in its initial stage, training and employing about 50 hard-hit key workers in eco-tourism (e.g. naturalist guides, fishermen and farmers) to conduct a vital capacity-building research initiative that will provide the basis for measuring the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic on biodiversity.

To this end, the Galapagos Science Center, San Francisco de Quito University, University of Exeter, with the support of the Biosecurity Agency of Galapagos (ABG) and the Galapagos Conservation Trust, propose to undertake an ambitious citizen science-driven research initiative, “Barcode Galapagos”. Specifically, we will:

(i) Use non-invasive 21st century genetic barcoding techniques to catalogue the biodiversity of the main Galapagos Islands and surrounding marine reserve, from microbial to mammal;

(ii) Train locals in key field, lab and curatorial techniques, and employ them to undertake the project, which can also open new job opportunities in the future;

(iii) Throughout, quantify the impacts of our approach for individual- and societal-level well-being. 


The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund

In addition to providing the scientific knowledge necessary for the understanding and conservation of key places in Galapagos, this project will serve to alleviate the economic pressures of people who have lost their jobs due to the health crisis that our planet is experiencing. Aware that the impacts are not the same for the entire population, the project has been conceived with gender perspective in-mind to contribute in reducing gaps in the Archipelago, as well as in the project´s team.



Bases convocatoria proyecto Código Genético de Galápagos


Preguntas Frecuentes Convocatoria Código Genético Galápagos

Contact information

Principal Investigators

Galapagos Science Center, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Dr. Jaime Chaves

Dra. Diana Pazmiño

Dr. Carlos F. Mena

University of Exeter

Dr. Camille Bonneaud

Dr. Andy Russell

Dr. Tomas Chaigneau

Project Administration

Carolina Proaño L., MSc

Project Manager GSC Quito

Diego Ortiz, PhD

Project Manager GSC San Cristóbal