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The Charles Darwin Foundation’s Terrestrial Sciences team began the first Biodiversity Survey of Floreana Island this January. For nearly one month, five groups of scientists, led by CDF Terrestrial Sciences Director Rodolfo Martinez and Biodiversity Program Leader Frank Bungartz, gathered information in 30 quadrants representing all biodiversity zones on Floreana.
The CDF science teams focused their research efforts on vascular plants, lichens and bryophytes, vertebrates, terrestrial invertebrates (ants, in particular), and soil characterization.
Patricia Jaramillo and Anne Guezou, CDF scientists in charge of the vascular plant portion of the study, collected 148 species, of which 39 were endemic, 66 native, and 43 introduced, including 4 new reports for Floreana: Axonopus compressus, Cochlidium sp., Senna pistaciifolia, and Chenopodium ambrosioides. They also gathered 433 plant specimens that are being processed for inclusion in the CDF’s herbarium collections and database.
Frank Bungartz, Frauke Ziemmeck and Alba Yánez conducted the lichen and bryophyte study on the island. Some of the most common lichen species were identified during the field work and a wide range of lichens were observed throughout all vegetation zones. Bryophytes, however, were found to be confined to the humid highlands. More detailed research to identify the less common species has now begun in CDF laboratories.
One important field-study finding was the rediscovery of two lichen species: Dyplolabia afzelii, first reported in 1971 on Santiago Island, and Lobariella pallida, reported only twice in the Galapagos. Bungartz remarked, “The ability to describe new species and at the same time rediscover others is very exciting. Fungi, lichens, and bryophytes make up a diverse element of the life on earth and are essential to understanding how ecosystems work. Biodiversity is more than the sum of its parts.”
Gustavo Jimenez and Luis Ortiz carried out the vertebrate field work. Jimenez explained, “We recorded 23 bird species and 2 reptile species in the study quadrants, while 10 bird species, 6 reptile species, and 2 mammal species were found outside the study areas, in addition to 7 introduced species.” It is important to mention that the Medium Tree Finch was recorded in several parts of the Floreana highlands, particularly in humid habitats. Cat and rat feces were found in several of the study quadrants, as well as outside of the plots. Currently data are being analyzed to assess the abundance and distribution of these introduced species.
Henri Herrera handled the invertebrate part of the study, reporting the presence of fire ants (Wasmannia auropunctata and Solenopsis geminata) throughout most of the humid highlands as well as being present in some habitats of the island’s arid zone. The inventory of ants and other invertebrates requires additional survey work and is expected to conclude after a subsequent field-trip. The information already obtained now will be used to evaluate the conservation status of some native ant species, such as the endemic and endangered Camponotus macilentus.
Soil samples collected by Rodolfo Martinez from the 30 plots will be analyzed in the laboratory to determine soil fertility status on land devoted to farming in areas with both native and invasive vegetation. This analysis will enable development of strategies to enhance soil fertility where necessary. Moreover, all the data collected will be used to draw up a detailed map of Floreana vegetation with the help of satellite images.
The Floreana biodiversity data survey combined the efforts of the CDF field team and the invaluable support of the Galapagos National Park Service and its technical office on Floreana Island.