Novel herpesvirus in the critically endangered Galapagos pink land iguana

Galapagos pink land iguana. Photo: © Howard L. Snell / iNaturalist

• We tested adenovirus and herpesvirus in iguanas of the Galapagos archipelago.

• First herpesviral detected in endangered Galapagos land pink iguana.

• Novel species of herpesvirus, tentatively named iguanid alphaherpesvirus 4.

• No adenovirus was detected in the tested iguanas.

Virus surveillance in wildlife is important to understanding ecosystem health, taxonomy, and evolution. Nevertheless, viruses in reptiles, and specifically in squamates, continue to be understudied. Herein, we conducted a health assessment on the critically endangered Galapagos pink land iguana (Conolophus marthae) and the vulnerable Galapagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus). We collected oral and/or cloacal swabs from 47 clinically healthy iguanas and tested for adenovirus (cloacal swabs, n = 47) and herpesvirus (oral swabs, n = 45) using broad-spectrum PCRs. Two out of 38 (5.3 %) Galapagos pink land iguanas tested positive for herpesvirus, while no herpesvirus was detected in all Galapagos land iguanas (n = 7). Both herpesviral sequences were identical between them and divergent (61.9 % amino acid identity) when compared to the closest herpesvirus sequences available in GenBank/EMBL/DDBJ. The genetic distance between this and other herpesviruses is consistent with its classification as a novel virus species. All iguanas were negative for adenovirus. This is the first description of a herpesvirus in iguanas of the Galapagos islands, and the first report of a potential pathogen for the iconic Galapagos pink land iguana. Further research is needed to understand the implications of this virus in the conservation and management of one of the most endangered iguana species in the world.

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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!