Giant tortoises play an essential role in the functioning of ecosystems across the Galapagos Islands. However, over the past 300 years their numbers have declined dramatically due to hunting (today no longer a threat) and threats from invasive species of plants and animals.
Over the last 50 years, the Galapagos National Park Service has made enormous progress in securing a future for these iconic animals. The removal of feral goats from the islands coupled with captive breeding and reintroduction have enabled several tortoise species to recover to stable and increasing population sizes.
Despite these successes, much remains to be done. The biggest current threats to the survival of giant tortoises are posed by invasive plants and animals. These introduced species can outcompete native species and negatively impact ecosystems. Feral pigs, rats and fire ants may all threaten the survival of tortoise eggs and hatchlings.
In the absence of hunting by humans, giant tortoises, like many long lived species, are most vulnerable during the early years of life, from egg to juvenile. Surprisingly, very little is known about how and where giant tortoises spend the first years of their lives. They are “lost years” but ones that are critical to an individual tortoise’s survival and for the population or species as a whole. Understanding how, when, where and why young tortoises live and die is therefore essential to conserving the species and to predicting future population trends.
As a scientific project that works in full collaboration with the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation, the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme aims to generate high quality scientific outputs that are directly useful for management. Collectively we hope to document the “lost years”, understand nesting and hatchling success, and discover the reasons for and rates of mortality that will inform and improve management actions such as nest protection, control of invasive species and climate change mitigation for these temperature sensitive reptiles.
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Learn more about the “lost years” and the project below…