Issue 1
Monday, 01 March 2021
Charles Darwin University
CDU PhD graduate Dr Veronica Toral-Granda on the rim of Sierra Negra volcano, Galapagos Islands
CDU PhD graduate Dr Veronica Toral-Granda on the rim of Sierra Negra volcano, Galapagos Islands

Galapagos expert highlights links on Darwin Day

By Carl Pfeiffer

An expert insight into life on the Galapagos Islands was the highlight of Charles Darwin University’s annual Darwin Day celebrations last month. 

Darwin Day commemorates the birth and extraordinary legacy of the university’s namesake, Charles Darwin, who was born on 12 February 1809.

CDU’s Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods Dr Veronica Toral-Granda spoke on her research conducted on the World Heritage-listed Galapagos Islands as part of the event. 

“The diverse flora and fauna on the islands were so influential in Charles Darwin’s thinking about the theory of evolution,” Dr Toral-Granda said. 

“I lived on the Galapagos for 20 years and was closely involved with research and education there, including with CDU’s Galapagos field intensive program.

“CDU’s connections are immense to the Galapagos through research and education.”

Dr Toral-Granda shared an insider view of the Galapagos, how living there streamlined her research and how Charles Darwin’s philosophies are relevant to this day.

The islands are known for their large number of endemic species that were studied by Charles Darwin in 1835, with his observations and collections contributing to the inception of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

Dr Toral-Granda moved to the Galapagos from Ecuador in 1995, where she quickly realised the two biggest threats to the islands were human population growth and invasive species. 

As part of her research she discovered more than 1600 alien species had found their way to the islands which threaten native wildlife. 

Dr Toral-Granda said introduced species were among the top threats to biodiversity on oceanic islands, with their arrival and spread closely linked to human trade and travel.

“Since their discovery in 1535, the sailors, pirates, settlers, and tourists arriving on the Galapagos Islands have been accompanied by hundreds of exotic species, some of which have become highly invasive," she said.

“Species such as the introduced parasitic fly Philornis downsi are causing close to 100 per cent mortality rates of nestlings of some of the iconic Darwin finch species.

“Of the 1637 species introduced to the Galapagos, more than 70 per cent had arrived since the start of tourism in the 1970s.”