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.