By Erika Guerrero of the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency.
I am a young professional who was born surrounded by the nature of Galapagos. I grew up in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, which is why, since childhood, I have been interested in the care of the endemic flora and fauna of the Archipelago. I studied biology at university, with an ongoing interest in conservation. Due to the knowledge acquired, I felt a strong inclination towards the study of invertebrates, which I find fascinating — organisms able to adapt to any environment to survive; although they can often cause serious damage in places where they become adapted.
I first pursued my interest in entomology with several volunteer positions on Santa Cruz, my native Island. I then began working in the Entomology Laboratory of the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG – its Spanish acronym) in Puerto Ayora. This institution carries out activities to support the conservation of the unique ecosystems of Galapagos. Being part of the ABG team has allowed me to reinforce and broaden my knowledge.
One of my main activities within the ABG is to identify invertebrates (ants) detected during monitoring operations in both urban and agricultural areas of the four populated islands and at the checkpoints in ports and airports, in Quito and Guayaquil. One objective of this work is to update existing information. Monitoring activities help detect the presence of new species, determine the size and distribution of the population, and provide the necessary information to take actions to control the more invasive species that damage the natural environment and agricultural production. In Quito and Guayaquil, I collaborate with the other team members to determine the risk of transport of ants to the Islands; an example of this is the detection of the Argentine ant, which is highly invasive.
It is important to constantly carry out both monitoring and the identification of new species. In this way we can provide the necessary information for preventive action, or in the case of a new introduction, take quick response actions to avoid the establishment and subsequent dispersion of the new species, in some cases achieving its eradication.
While it is true that native ants play a very important role in ecosystem dynamics, introduced ants can cause great damage, especially to a unique environment such as the Galapagos. Damages in Galapagos include displacement of endemic and native ants, invasion of bird nests, symbiosis with crop pests, and general nuisance to farmers at harvest time. In 2017, ABG proposed a project on controlling and monitoring invasive ants to Galapagos Conservancy. Since the creation of ABG, GC has been a strategic partner, and in this case, provided the necessary funding.
With the results of the monitoring and identification work, the technical team then performs control actions. My colleague, Biologist Ronald Azuero, a 35-year-old Galapagos native with 16 years of experience in monitoring and identifying invertebrates, leads the team that executes these actions to prevent damage to the Archipelago’s ecosystems.
The work carried out within this project contributes to avoiding the dispersion of invasive ant species in rural areas (high infestation sites) and at the points of embarkation and disembarkation of passengers and cargo, in such a way that some ants were effectively stopped from being transported to the Islands.
I have gained experience working in these control activities on how to apply environmentally-friendly products to the environment, which allows me to carry out an effective and efficient control within the rules of environmental care.
During this project we have enjoyed active citizen participation as an integral nexus to manage invasive introduced species that are a problem for the native biodiversity, agriculture and human health.
Erika Guerrero was born on Santa Cruz in 1993. Erika studied at the Miguel Ángel Cazares high school in Puerto Ayora and completed her university degree at the Central University campus in Galapagos. She identified the first fruit fly (Bactrocera tau) in the Baltra airport, which helped to impede its expansion and reproduction in the Islands.
Galapagos Conservancy has been supporting the ABG’s Invasive Ant project since 2017.
All photos © ABG.