The Role of Science for Conservation, edited by Matthias Wolff and Mark Gardner, celebrates Charles Darwin’s Bicentennial and 50 years of research by the Charles Darwin Foundation in The Galápagos, Ecuador. Using The Galápagos as a case study, The Role of Science for Conservation communicates to a wide audience about themes from a broad range of scientific disciplines. The book is divided into four parts: evolutionary context, biodiversity assessment and monitoring, modeling and restoration, and sustainable development.
Topical, rich in natural history, and integrated across topics, with broad themes that can be applied globally, The Role of Science for Conservation provides us with a concise analysis of key issues facing conservationists globally.
Before arriving The Galápagos in 1835, Charles Darwin spent almost four years observing ecological anomalies. It was almost like he was practicing his craft improving his skills before he arrived at The Galápagos. Once he arrived in The Galápagos, he quickly began to apply his skills often focusing on the The Galápagos Mockingbirds. It was clear to him that these mockingbirds exhibited biotic affinity. Furthermore, using language that would become the basis of evolutionary theory of natural selection, Charles Darwin wrote in 1839:
“… we may infer from these fats, what havoc the introduction of any new beast of prey must cause in a country, before the instincts of the aborigines become adapted to the stranger’s craft or power.”
The Role of Science for Conservation, after introducing Charles Darwin and the voyage of The Beagle, introduces us to the 1905-1906 Galápagos expedition by the California Academy of Sciences. The role this second expedition has planned as a benchmark for conservation and the tools used by conservationists use is explained thoroughly.
With this historically important natural history basis, The Role of Science for Conservation begins by discussing the evolutionary context of the islands. A rich discussion follows with how the colonization of parasites with hosts occurs, and how this impacts ongoing evolutionary trends. For example, The Galápagos now has plasmodium, culex quinquefasciatus, avipoxivirus, and other diseases that are impacting endemic populations’ stability. As one of the most highly studied ecosystems globally, we can study the vectors of these introduced diseases to learn key lessons applicable elsewhere.
In the second part of the book, the authors discuss at length biodiversity monitoring opportunities and challenges within The Galápagos. Describing lessons learned elsewhere and their applicability in The Galápagos, the authors provide a thorough and precise analysis of “the neglected majority” and how taxonomy has diverged from conservation as taxonomists become focused on the lab, and not on conservation of the ecosystem as a whole. Within the context of The Galápagos, it is clear that some groups are well described such as mammals and birds, while other groups are very poorly studied and understood, such as fungi and marine and terrestrial invertebrates. These groups may have only 10% to 50% described scientifically. In summary, this means that in what may be the most studied ecosystem on Earth – the Galápagos – we have only described a small percentage of the species that exist on the islands after 175 years of scientific analysis!
The third part of the book begins with a very interesting analysis of fifty years of invasive species eradication efforts in The Galápagos. In the last 50 years, 57 eradication programs have occurred on the islands, with 27 deemed a success, 20 deemed a failure, and 10 ongoing. This provides us with a rich laboratory of key learnings from which we can draw experience from and apply on the islands and elsewhere. In particular, while not an eradication program in the classic sense, the experience of a decade of protection of the Galápagos Marine Reserve and its protection and impact on trophic levels is illuminating.
The fourth part of the book describes sustainable development future scenarios for The Galápagos. Leading with a chapter by Dr. Robert Costanza on ecosystem valuation of The Galápagos, it is clear that ecosystem modeling under various climate constraints can assist natural resource managers in managing ecosystems for simultaneous positive economic and ecological results.
The Role of Science for Conservation is a superb book describing trends in ecology through the lens of one of the most studied ecologies on Earth—The Galápagos.
How to order:
Author: Matthias Wolff and Mark Gardner, editors
Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, LEED AP, is a natural resource scientist and financial consultant.
(11/07/2012) The Galapagos Islands have been famous for a century and a half, but
even Charles Darwin thought the archipelago’s list of living wonders
didn’t include coral reefs. It took until the 1970s before scientists
realized the islands did in fact have coral, but in 1983, the year the
first major report on Galapagos reef formation was published, they
were almost obliterated by El Niño. This summer, a major coral survey
found that some of the islands’ coral communities are showing
promising signs of recovery. Their struggle to survive may tell us
what is in store for the rest of the world, where almost
three-quarters of corals are predicted to suffer long-term damage by
(06/25/2012) Lonesome George, the sole surviving member of the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni), was found dead on Sunday by staff at the Galapagos National Park. With George’s passing, the Pinta Island tortoise subspecies officially falls into extinction. First found in 1972, Lonesome George became famous for representing the last of his kind. He was believed to be around 100—middle-aged for a Galapagos tortoise which can live to 200 years old. Staff plan to do an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
(02/02/2011) A semester abroad is an opportunity to live a sort of compacted life. In a few short months you seem to gain the experience of a much longer time and make enough memories to fill years. I recall a weeklong trip to the Alvord Desert with a field biology class from Portland Community College: the adventure of living out of a van, conducting research, and experiencing a place with classmates turned colleagues and professors turned friends who knew the desert like the backs of their hands. In that regard, it had a lot in common with my semester in Ecuador, but I can’t think of anything that could have prepared me for a four month stay in a small South American country that I knew very little about.