Analysis of the iconic plant radiation of the Galapagos Endemic Genus Scalesia

Island radiations can provide key insights for understanding rapid speciation (formation of new, distinct species), including evolutionary patterns and the processes behind them.

However, lack of resolution of species relationships has historically hindered their investigation, particularly in the plant kingdom.

  “This study constitutes the first analysis on the evolutionary processes that have given rise to the diversification (speciation) of this endemic and emblematic genus of the Galapagos Islands” concludes Juan E. Guevara, researcher and professor at the University of the Americas who participated and collaborated with the investigation.

The work presents a time-calibrated phylogenomic analysis based on genotying-by-sequencing data of the 15 species of Scalesia (Darwin’s giant daisies), an iconic and understudied plant radiation endemic to the Galapagos Islands and considered the plant counterpart to Darwin’s finches.

Gonzalo Rivas-Torres, researcher at the San Francisco University of Quito (USFQ), coordinator of this long-term project, emphasizes that, the results of this study are important to understand how invasive species, climate change and human activity in Galapagos may impact unique groups species on those islands. Knowing the evolutionary relationships of Scalesia is a first step to understand, relevant aspects of its ecology giving insights on how to improve the management and conservation measures of these species, which are only recorded in Ecuador, at the Galápagos archipelago” says Rivas-Torres.

The results determined that while Scalesia‘s ancestor colonized the islands just over 2.5 million years ago, the group began to diversify approximately 500,000 years ago. This recent speciation or radiation event is critical in terms of understanding the possible adaptations of Scalesia species to environmental conditions in the Gálapagos and the possible impacts of future changes in the islands’ climate.

Finally, Rivas-Torres also highlighted the importance of joint cooperation with the Galapagos National Park Directorate to obtain these results. The data collected here are very useful for the management performed by the Galapagos National Park, since they could lead monitoring, management or reintroduction programs of species if necessary.


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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!