Our Researchers

Interdisciplinary research that furthers science and contributes to Galapagos conservation and sustainable development is our number one priority

© Archipiélago Films

© Archipiélago Films

© Archipiélago Films

© Archipiélago Films

© Archipiélago Films

GSC Research is cutting edge in a World Heritage Site and seeks to complement other organizations´ initiatives, all regulated by the Ecuadorian Government. This video filmed in Spanish by the Ecuadorian Ministry for Knowledge and Human Talent Coordination shows you some of the incredible species that live here and a few of our researchers: Diego Paéz-Rosas, Juan Pablo Muñoz-Pérez y Carlos Mena.

Doing Research in A World Heritage Site

Over the years the majority of GSC research projects have focused on furthering local and internationally comparative knowledge in the natural sciences disciplines. Many research projects require data collection within the protected areas of Galapagos under the management of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (DPNG).

Research in the Galapagos Islands is highly regulated to ensure preservation of the 97% land mass that is set aside as national park protected areas with only certain visitation sites accessible to the public. The GSC facilitates required Scientific Research Permits for these studies under a formal agreement signed with the DPNG through the USFQ.

Gradually more GSC research projects occur in the non-protected areas of Galapagos and are coordinated with other governmental agencies, like the Public Health Ministry (MSP), Animal Husbandry and Agricultural Ministry (MAG) and the National Agricultural Research Institute (INIAP), as well as other organizations.

Find out more about the interesting research we do on the islands that informs science around the world.

GSC has currently multiple ongoing research projects in three principal categories: Marine Ecology, Terrestrial Ecology and Social Sciences. Click one of the photos below to see a list of publications in each area

Marine Ecology

@Diana Pazmiño

Terrestrial Ecology

© Archipiélago Films

Social Sciences

© Ashleigh Klingman

GSC Research is Interdisciplinary and Impactful

Our Reseachers work together across disciplines to further science and inform policy makers around the world. Get to know some of our internationally recognized projects.

Scientists analyze the health of the Galapagos shallow-tailed gull

GALAPAGOS SCIENCE CENTER"Baseline hematology, biochemistry, blood gas values ​​and health status of the Galápagos shallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus)", a research based on the study of a seabird, endemic to the Galapagos archipelago. This is an investigation by...

Analysis of the iconic plant radiation of the Galapagos Endemic Genus Scalesia

GALAPAGOS SCIENCE CENTEREvolutionary radiations on oceanic islands have fascinated biologists since Darwin's exploration of the Galápagos archipelago. Island radiations can provide key insights for understanding rapid speciation (formation of new, distinct species),...

The Galapagos Science Center performs health evaluations on 36 turtles as support to The Galapagos National Park prior to their release

GALAPAGOS SCIENCE CENTERThe Galapagos Science Center recently carried out medical evaluations of 36 tortoises of the Chelonoidis chatamensis species that were in the “David Rodríguez” Breeding Center on San Cristóbal Island. The objective of this activity was to...

Healthy Families Study

Over the past two years, we have been conducting the Healthy Families Study in San Cristobal in…

GSC plays an integral role in the Galapagos Inter-Institutional Commission for Responsible Plastics Use

Beginning in 2012, the plenary of the Galapagos Governing Council (CGREG), the highest government instance in Galapagos…

Grass Genomes X Environments: A hypothesis/discovery-based approach connecting genome with the phenome of plant habit and behavior in natural settings

Unraveling the rules of life requires that we understand how the total collection of genes shapes life form, physiology, and behavior.

“Steve Walsh NASA Grant on Galapagos Islands”

Stephen J. Walsh, Richard E. Bilsborrow, Laura Brewington, Yang Shao, Hernando Mattei, Francisco Laso, Phil Page, Brian Frizzelle (2017-2020), Synthesis of Drivers, Patterns, and Trajectories of LCLUC in Island Ecosystems, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

GSC Reports

“GSC Researcher Juan Pablo Muñoz-Pérez leads an international research team in Galapagos to better understand the impact of plastics on marine wildlife.

He regularly shares his knowledge with international media teams including, ITV News and The Guardian, as shown in these videos here:

The Guardian

ITV News

This project is supported by multiple international groups, including Galapagos Conservation Trust:

You can read more about Juan Pablo´s project in the GSC Local Flagship Projects and Citizen Science sections on Our Educators page. Click the following link.

UNC Researcher in the spotlight

PI: Diego Riveros-Iregui

Bio:

Diego Riveros-Iregui received a B.S. in geosciences from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, an M.S. in hydrogeology from the University of Minnesota, and a Ph.D. in watershed hydrology from Montana State University.  His research foci include watershed science, forest and soil processes, ecosystem ecology, and human-water-environment interactions.

His field studies include highly impacted alpine grasslands in humid, tropical Andes of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. He teaches courses on hydrology, watershed science, environmental systems, and field methods in physical geography.  He has received numerous awards, including the J. Carlyle Sitterson Award for Teaching First-Year Students, and the National Science Foundation Early Career Award.

Research:

In the Galapagos, he led an interdisciplinary team that examines the relationship between precipitation inputs (i.e., fog, rainfall), ecosystem water use, water storage, and water availability, with the goal of assessing the fate of precipitation, evaluating ecosystem function, and determining water availability for human consumption at different times of the year or under different hydrologic regimes (e.g., during El Niño).

The tropics are currently inhabited by 40% of the world’s population and 55% of the world’s children under the age of five, yet by 2050 those proportions will increase to 50% and 60%, respectively. This projected growth makes the tropics of particular interest to address global sustainability questions, as tropical regions will inevitably experience climbing pressures and demands for essential ecosystem services. The Galapagos Islands offer a unique example of this global conundrum: a tropical environment with distinct, sharp microclimate zonations imposed by topography combined with exceptional demand for freshwater due to population growth, tourism, land-use change, and contamination.

 Other innovative questions that motivate him and which he is excited to investigate include the fate of fog and rainfall inputs in tropical montane cloud forests; the effects of anthropogenic change on water resource sustainability in tropical ecosystems; soil formation processes in volcanic environments and their potential for carbon sequestration; and natural emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and CH4 from lower-order (1st to 3rd) streams in tropical streams.

The GSC has multiple meterological stations placed permanently in the highlands of San Cristobal Island to regularly evaluate hydrologic regimes.

Teaching:

He regularly teaches a field course on Tropical Ecohydrology to UNC students who travel with him to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. In total, he has taken 34 UNC undergraduates to Ecuador with support from UNC’s Study Abroad Office and the Center for Galapagos Studies for a three-week course. The course focuses on the hydrologic cycle and the interactions and feedbacks between hydrological and ecological processes, with an emphasis on the sustainability of freshwater resources. In addition, 3 of those students have returned to Ecuador to conduct their own research projects under my supervision.

USFQ Researcher in the spotlight

Understanding the Galapagos mundane: the impact of our lifestyles on Darwin´s finches 

PI: Jaime Chaves

Have you wondered why the Galapagos finches wear bands? Your observations count! Tell us where you see them at: jachaves@usfq.edu.ec

GSC periodically features one of our research projects from each of our sponsoring universities. Learn about how our researchers got involved in their work, what they are currently researching and how this information benefits Galapagos and science.

Understanding the Galapagos mundane: the impact of our lifestyles on Darwin´s finches

Have you wondered why the Galapagos finches wear bands? Your observations count! Tell us where you see them at: jachaves@usfq.edu.ec

For many of us, we discover our abilities and passions from a young age. USFQ professor and GSC researcher Jaime Chaves visited the Galapagos as a young child in the 1980s, and he was fascinated, as many children today, with the proximity we are granted with marvelous animals in this natural laboratory. Jaime easily opted for a career in the natural sciences, fueled by his innate curiosity about nature and motivated by how the scientific method provides us with tools to ask questions and search for the answers.

For over 15 years now, Jaime has specialized in two lines of work about the seemingly mundane 15 species of Galapagos finches: anthropological impact on their behavior and understanding the tree of life from DNA analysis.

Galapagos finches are lively little birds that fascinate the recent arrival, but later spark less interest in the longer-term resident. When you see light gray to black finches around you daily, their presence may become mundane in comparison with the colorful blue-footed boobies or prehistoric appearance of the world´s only sea-going lizard: the Galapagos marine iguana. However, the adaptive radiation of these small creatures remains the central textbook example of Charles Darwin´s Theory of Evolution based on their beak variation across islands and  ecological niches.

Jaime works with a group of 7 universities on more than 15 inter-disciplinary sub-projects that seek to increase the breadth of knowledge available on these important species that have lived on the islands for more than a million years. Jaime is the principal investigator for a project that focuses on understanding the effects of urbanization in the islands on the finch populations, especially linked to feeding behaviors. Galapagos finches tend to stay close to their birth site; thus, finches around restaurants with access to rice will likely stray from their natural diet in comparison to finches in the protected areas that have eaten specific seeds for millenniums. This anthropological influence appears to be affecting competition between species and possible inbreeding that could alter the textbook adaptive radiation example of Galapagos finches at a relatively fast rate. For this reason, Jaime and his collaborators analyze DNA from the finches to understand how different they are between species and with regards to other species.

Over the years Jaime has sought to increase access to this knowledge, especially to promote more attention and concern about human interaction with Galapagos finches. He publishes frequently in academic journals and regularly updates “Galapagos Science Today,” a Facebook page created to update the public and the Galapagos Naturalist Guides about new research done on the islands. Jaime also has a citizen science project using the AVES-EVO mobile application. In addition to his normal course load, he coordinates an annual field course with EXETER University, Falmouth campus in England with fellow researchers and undergraduate conservation biology, zoology and marine biology students. In 2019 this course formed part of GSC´s first Join Science! Program to incorporate more local students in GSC research projects.

The key challenge remains translating this scientific knowledge into a general awareness campaign to protect these iconic species. For the moment we can all begin with one simple step: please gently shoo that cute little finch away from your plate of rice. Collectively we can revalue the Galapagos mundane and conserve the Galapagos finch species.

Jaime Chaves has a PhD in Evolution from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Read more about Jaime´s work at his personal website  jaimechaves.weebly.com or get in touch with him Jachaves@usfq.edu.ec

Citizen Science

Citizen science is a way to experience science close-up. By participating you can help advance scientific research in benefit of Galapagos.

Anyone visiting the islands can participate in citizen science as a tourist, local resident or student by observing species (please respect the Galapagos National Park Directorate distance rule of 2 meters) and telling us about your observations by e-mail dealarcon@usfq.edu.ec. Here are the most popular current Projects with a citizen science component:

1. Identifying individual species and tracking their location in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

GSC invites citizens to take photos of the following species:

© Maximilian Hirschfeld

  • Bullhead sharks: Try to get alongside the specimen to take a side photo to identify a pattern of its spots, unique to each individual.

© Jonathan Green

  • Whale sharks: Try to get alongside the specimen to take a side photo from the gills to the dorsal fin.

© Juan Pablo Muñoz

  • Sea turtles: Take two photos when you are alongside the specimen. 1) Of the right side of the turtle´s head. 2) Of the full body.

© Daniela Alarcón

  • Whales: Try to get close enough to take a photo of the side of the dorsal fin. For orca whales, take a photo of the side of the specimen, focusing on the white patch below the eye. Both dorsal fins, and white patches for Orcas, are unique identifiers for each individual.

© Lauren Goodman

  • Rays: Take a photo of the underside of the specimen, if possible.

Please send your photos and information about the place and date where you saw each specimen to our GSC Flagship Projects Manager at dealarcon@usfq.edu.ec.

2. Monitor the presence and absence of species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Help us to share scientific knowledge! When you upload your reports to Shark Count Galapagos on your smart phone or tablet, you contribute to science and empirical knowledge in benefit of all who work and love the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Send your photos and information about the place and date where you saw each specimen to the following e-mail address: communicatesciencegsc@gmail.com

PEAK WAVE PERIOD

Peak Wave Action

How does GSC work together with other institutions to generate useful information for citizens and decision-makers?

Wave Forecasting System (NEREO)

Researchers Margarita Brandt, USFQ, & Jesus Portilla, Escuela Politécnica Nacional (EPN)

 

NEREO is the operational wave forecast system serving the Ecuadorian Territorial Sea, including the Galapagos Islands. The information is distributed graphically in the form of maps containing the wave forecast for the following 7 days.

The system provides ocean wave parameters such as Significant Wave Height (Hs), Peak Wave Period (Tp), and Mean Wave Direction (Dm). In addition, time series of significant wave height are provided for specific locations along the coast, with indication of the possible risk levels according to the local statistics.

Output is given, in three different spatial grids, one covering the Eastern Equatorial Pacific region with a relatively coarse resolution of 28km, and the others covering the Ecuadorian coastline and the Galapagos Archipelago with a finer resolution at 4km. Boundary wave conditions are generated internally from a coarser global grid.

The system is driven by meteorological forcing provided by NOAA, through the Global Forecast System GFS. The wave model in use is WaveWatchIII from the Marine Modeling and Analysis Branch (MMAB). The system has been validated through in-situ data provided by the Dirección General Marítima de Colombia (DIMAR), and also using global satellite observations.