This blog is a collaborative effort of GC staff, colleagues, scientists, supporters, and friends. This space will be used to share amazing stories about all things Galapagos and our efforts to conserve these treasured islands.

The CDRS Specimen Collection: An Invaluable Part of Galapagos Conservation

In part 1 of this two-part blog series, guest author Swen Lorenz, Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, takes us behind-the-scenes of the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz and its extensive specimen collection from Galapagos.

 

Among the treasures housed in the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) are specimens collected throughout the archipelago over decades. Curated by CDRS staff, the collections contain more than 100,000 specimens of plants, invertebrates, vertebrates, and marine species. These collections are the largest and most complete reference collections for Galapagos in the world, and we are still adding more. Our botany collection alone — known as the "Herbarium" — grows by more than 1,000 specimens each year.

These collections are, quite literally, priceless. Recreating them from scratch would cost upwards of $10M, which is not even possible given that some of the species within the collections are now extinct. But beyond their historical value, these collections are vital to the conservation of the Galapagos archipelago. Not only are they are utilized on a daily basis for exploring and understanding the biological diversity of Galapagos, they also provide essential information to scientists, technicians, and managers of Galapagos institutions such as the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG), and the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGAP).

The specimen collections make it possible to:

  • Quickly identify and verify Galapagos species for information on the distribution and well-being of endemic species
  • Understand interactions between species, ecosystem processes and evolution
  • Rapidly identify newly-introduced species to facilitate ABG in eradicating high-risk invasive species before they become established in Galapagos 
  • Extract genetic material
  • Understand the impacts of climate change and invasive species
  • Establish a baseline by comparing historical data with what is found now

In order to ensure that these collections are available to scientists and government officials, they require experienced staff to help preserve the existing material and curate, prepare, identify, mount, and add new material to the collection. A critically important piece of this work is to catalogue all specimens and add them to the collection in a highly organized manner with all pertinent related information. At CDF, we have taken this one step further and created an online portal to provide easy and direct access to all the information available in the collections through the CDF DataZone and Collections portal.

Daily access to the reference specimens housed in Galapagos makes it possible for CDF to conduct its scientific research and provide support to the Government of Ecuador. Hundreds of scientific papers and management recommendations have been published as a result of work carried out in the reference collections. As such, administering these collections on behalf of the Government of Ecuador is something of which the CDRS is very proud.

 

All the more, we were praised by the “father of biodiversity” himself, Professor E.O. Wilson — recognized as the world’s leading expert on ants, and someone who is probably better positioned than anyone to speak about the quality of our work. As he put it, "I was very impressed by the CDRS invertebrate collection during my visit to the Galapagos. It is being assembled in a professional manner, and of course has special scientific significance because of the uniqueness of the fauna and the lessons in ecology and evolution it teaches us."

Needless to say, praise from someone like E.O. Wilson only further motivates our team to keep this unique treasure intact and available for scientists to use them in their work.

 

Swen Lorenz, Executive Director
Charles Darwin Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

CDF offers VIP tours for a behind-the-scenes experience at the Charles Darwin Research Station, which includes a tour of the collections. Contact Sofia Darquea De Witt, Visitors Center Coordinator, for more information.

 

Galapagos and Beyond: July Roundup

Our July roundup finally brings closure to the Galapaface fiasco off the coast of San Cristóbal, thankfully with minimal environmental impact. July also premiered the hour-long episode of Radiolab solely dedicated to Galapagos, and marks the submission deadline for the …

Galapagos and Beyond: June Roundup

June is the beginning of the “dry season” in Galapagos, known for its blue skies and mid-afternoon showers. It also marked the annual “World Oceans Day” and two-year anniversary of Lonesome George’s death. We cover these events and report on …

The Memory of Lonesome George Lives On

  Two years ago today, the world lost Lonesome George — the last known Pinta Island tortoise, who had become a global icon for conservation. The story of Lonesome George continues to inspire the vital work of protecting and rebuilding giant tortoise …

Summer Update from Galapagos: Annual Cruise and Tortoise Planning

I recently returned from a month in Galapagos, first enjoying the Islands with a wonderful group of people on the annual Galapagos Conservancy cruise, and then delving into decades of herpetology files at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) — a …

Galapagos and Beyond: May Roundup

May was a busy month for Galapagos, from a new study on Darwin’s Finches’ fight for survival to the cargo ship that remains stranded on the rocks off of San Cristobal. Here we recap some of the month’s top stories. …

“Understanding Galapagos:” What a Galapagos Guide Book Should Be

Renowned as they are, there is still so much that remains little-known about the Galapagos Islands. Start with the fact that it wasn’t actually the Darwin finches that inspired Charles Darwin, but the mockingbirds. Equally, nearly anyone realizes just how …

Galapagos and Beyond: April Roundup

Galapagos has been in the news quite a bit lately, and not just among the “top 10 best travel destinations” lists that have been cropping up. In this month’s roundup, we highlight some recent news and interesting stories from Galapagos. …

Behind the Galapagos Tortoise Cams: Part II

In Part I of the tortoise cam blog series, we heard about some of the technical aspects of getting the cams up and running from Dr. James Gibbs of SUNY-ESF and Sean Burnett of Wildlife Intel. In the second and final installment, they …

Behind the Galapagos Tortoise Cams: Part I

In the summer of 2013, the first-ever wildlife webcams were installed in the Galapagos Islands: specifically, in four tortoise pens at the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center at the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) campus on Santa Cruz. In addition to support …
Tortoise Cam

Latest News