Galapagos Invasive Species:
Harmful animals

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Learning from Hawaii: avoiding the threat of introduced diseases in Galapagos

Chicken farm The introduction of infectious diseases to the Galapagos Islands could result in high morbidity and mortality, reduced productivity, and subsequent population decline or extinction of Galapagos fauna. Galapagos fauna may be highly susceptible to the effects of novel viral, bacterial, and parasitic agents because they may have evolved in the absence of selective pressure from these pathogens. Diseases may be introduced to the Galapagos by human introduction of invasive vertebrate species (rats, cats, dogs, chickens, pigeons, frogs), invertebrate vectors (mosquitoes, blackflies, pillbugs, etc.), contaminated equipment, clothing, or agricultural products, and natural migration (cattle egrets, migratory birds).

The rapidly growing poultry industry on the Galapagos Finch with pox Islands poses a significant disease threat to native birds. Newcastle disease, detected in Galapagos chickens, has the potential to cause declines of the flightless cormorant, lava gull, and Galapagos penguin, species with small population sizes (< 1500 individuals). Trichomonas gallinae and Salmonella sp., reported in domestic pigeons on San Cristóbal, may cause severe disease in species such as Galapagos doves and other native birds. Domestic cats, widespread in human-inhabited islands, are carriers of Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite that may cause high mortality in Galapagos birds and marine mammals. Domestic dogs may introduce diseases such as canine distemper and leptospirosis that can cause high morbidity and mortality in Galapagos sea lions. Vector-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and avian malaria, if introduced into Galapagos ecosystems, could cause widespread mortality of native birds. Disease surveillance and management programs are underway to detect and minimise the deleterious effects of introduced diseases on Galapagos fauna.

Source: Charles Darwin Foundation.

The Fabricio Valverde laboratory

Finch with pox The Fabricio Valverde laboratory, part of the GNP, is fully equipped for the development of activities in the fields of pathology, genetics, immunology and epidemiology. A group of scientists from the Biotechnology Programme of Guayaquil University, the London Institute of Zoology (UK), and the company “Concepto Azul” form the technical scientific team which supports the GNP in carrying out training and research programmes related to the diseases which threaten wildlife and domestic animals, and also studies of disease vectors, etc.

Main activities

In the field of genetics, studies are being carried out on genetic variability, molecular markers, etc. The laboratory has worked in the establishment of diagnostic techniques for the canine distemper virus, avian pox, leptospirosis, and is currently working on other diseases which affect reptiles, birds, and marine mammals within the framework of a project funded by the Darwin Initiative.

Research is designed to guide those responsible in the GNP in their management plans. An important component in the laboratory is the training of young Ecuadorians, under- and postgraduates, in the modern methods of biotechnology, serology and histology, applied to the conservation and protection of Galapagos biodiversity.

Source: Galapagos National Park.

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This website was created on 25 October 2004 by PT and JK