Galapagos Penguins, the only penguins in the world found north of the equator, are at serious risk due to global climate change. (Photo by Jack Baldelli)
The unique climate of Galapagos is intrinsically linked to its exceptional biodiversity. Strong El Niño events and variations in local climatic conditions have long defined the archipelago’s natural ecosystems, human welfare, and the interactions between the two.
With a change in global climate, El Niño events, which cause increases in sea temperature and rainfall, could be more frequent and intense. Combined with pressure from human activities they could severely impact ecosystem function and the natural recuperation of living communities in the terrestrial and marine systems. Global climate change could also cause shifts in global resources, markets, and economies that will influence livelihoods of Galapagos inhabitants.
Marine Iguana by Nordine Audette
Scientists in Galapagos are studying the ties between climate, biodiversity and the human element. They are analyzing the adaptability of Galapagos to climate change and working to predict the ecosystem response to changes in the frequency and strength of El Niño events, rainfall patterns, increases in sea temperature, sea level change, and acidification of the world’s oceans.
Serious questions remain to be answered: How will the Galapagos ecosystem respond to climate change? Which endemic species or communities are most vulnerable and which require the most protection? How will invasive species, one of the most significant threats to Galapagos, respond to climate change and affect system resilience and alter conservation priorities?
Research will confirm the priority vulnerable species and prepare management plans to reduce human-caused threats from fisheries, tourism, and other activities of the human population in Galapagos.
Scientists expect that Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, and mangrove stands are particularly susceptible to climate change. Land-based reptiles adapted to arid conditions, some of which have temperature dependent sex determination, will also be studied.