Most of the Galapagos Islands have been harmed in one way or another by the presence of humans and the introduction of non-native species. Nowhere is this more evident than the island of Floreana, which has the longest history of human habitation.
Many of its species, such as the Floreana Tortoise, are extinct, while many more, such as the Floreana Mockingbird, are in serious danger. It has therefore been singled out for “Project Floreana,” an ambitious project designed to turn back the clock on the damage done to the island, located in the southern part of the Galapagos archipelago.
Because of the ongoing work on Floreana, researchers at the Charles Darwin Foundation decided to do a complete, intensive survey of all of the plants and animals that call Floreana home. For nearly a month in January 2011, five teams did a comprehensive survey at 30 sites on Floreana.
The sites were selected in order to represent all of the biodiversity zones on the island. The teams were made up of specialists in their chosen fields, and the surveys included vertebrates, invertebrates, soils, vascular plants and bryophytes and lichens. Here’s what each team found:
- Vertebrates (leaders Gustavo Jiménez and Luis Ortiz): The researchers found a total of 23 bird species and two reptile species within the confines of the study areas. An additional 10 bird species, six reptile species and two mammal species were observed outside of the study zones. Researchers were pleased to find the critically endangered Medium Tree Finch in several of the highland or humid investigation zones. Invasive cats and rats were not seen but traces of them were found.
- Invertebrates (leader Henri Herrera): the focus of the invertebrate group was primarily land-bound insects, particularly ants, as opposed to flying ones like wasps (which are a serious problem on Floreana). Introduced and harmful fire ants were reported in several of the study areas, particularly in the highlands. These ants are endangering local ant species. The invertebrate group will continue their surveys in coming months, as they have determined that more field work is necessary.
- The vascular plant study team (leaders Patricia Jaramillo and Anne Guezou) collected 148 species: 39 endemic, 66 native and 43 introduced. Among these were four plants previously unknown on Floreana. Many of the specimens they found will be used to update the Charles Darwin Foundation’s collections and database.
- The bryophyte and lichen team (leaders Frank Bungartz, Frauke Ziemmeck and Alba Yanez) found a number of interesting species, including two very rare ones. One of them had not been sighted since 1971 on Santiago! Some of the samples are awaiting laboratory analysis.
- The soils team (leader Rodolfo Martinez) collected samples from all 30 sites. Lab tests will need to be done to create a soil map of the island, which in turn will help with the agricultural development part of Project Floreana.
The information gathered by this exhaustive survey will be of great value as a comprehensive plan for Floreana’s rehabilitation, proceeds for the next few years. Scientists and researchers will be working on removing invasive species, helping native and endemic wildlife to flourish, and hopefully making the island safe once again for species like the Floreana Mockingbird. Success on Floreana could lead to similar programs on other islands.