Did you know that birds change their genetic structure to adapt to different habitats due to changes in the environment?

Genetic research is generating a great step forward in understanding the DNA of species. Jaime Chaves, a researcher at the Galapagos Science Center, recently conducted a study that confirmed that the genetic makeup of finches changes when they move from one habitat to another.

Jaime’s research focuses on the processes of evolution and adaptation of species from a genetic point of view.

Jaime explained,“My research projects generally have to do with groups of birds, and in particular with Darwin finches or Galapagos finches. The interesting thing about this group is that much is known about them because it is an example of adaptive radiation, that is, the common ancestors of birds arrived in the Galapagos and found different habitats and adapted to each one of them. Their beak has been changing, mostly in response to the different food sources that exist on the different islands. And this is the process of creating new species in response to the environment.”

From Jaime’s genetic research, it is possible to understand the formation of new species and how they evolve to adapt to their environment, which has been changing as human beings have been occupying the same spaces.

Genovesa cactus finch (Geospiza propinqua). Photo: Jaime Chaves

Jaime added, “One of the things we are finding is this specialization of certain beaks in different species to a type of seed that causes the difference between populations to be erased because the selection is no longer as strong because the finches are eating more seeds that we humans have introduced. So, in a certain way, we are relaxing the processes of natural selection and instead of having different species, we are homogenizing the species, and we are losing diversity in that sense.”

Jaime’s line of research focuses on the observation of changes in the finches, whether short or long term, if they are maintained in time and space, in order to find certain correlations with genetic markers. His studies also show how the DNA is changing in the face of the modifications that the human being imposes on the environment.

Collection of samples in the field.

Jaime’s research is also part of the Barcode (Galapagos Genetic Code) project, which consists of a genetic study of the species that are present in the Galapagos with the aim of using that genetic information and making a precise identification of the species through the genetic code.

Jaime added, “Our idea is to generate this library so that it is open to the public and that it will have a lot of uses, for example for the Galapagos Biosafety and Control Agency, allowing its officials to access it and constantly monitor the species that enter Galapagos, which sometimes we do not know what they are.”

Genetic research is generating a rapid identification, recording the origin of the species, the type, and it’s eating and reproductive habits.

For Jaime, the support of the Galapagos Science Center has been essential for his research, since he has found an indispensable ally that allows him to dedicate himself specifically to collecting data, studying, and contrasting them.

Genetic research is teamwork that allows the advancement of what we know and do not know about the species that inhabit the Galapagos Islands. This data helps decision-making for the protection of ecosystems and their biodiversity. When we know the species in depth, we can be aware of the impact we generate and act in favor of caring for the planet.

Jaime Chaves

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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!