The Drone, an effective and minimally invasive research tool, helps to map invasive plant species in Galapagos

This is all part of their research project titled “How exotic are exotic species? Ecological analysis of arthropod networks associated with exotic and native legume seeds in Galapagos.”

Leucaena leucocephala is a species that, due to its great adaptability, is considered highly invasive. Currently, there are records of the presence of this species in the 4 populated islands of the Galapagos. However, its exact distribution is currently not known.

In order to study this, Camacho and Rivas use drones to map this plant in urban, rural and protected areas. This means capturing drone images from the coast of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to El Progreso, located 7 kilometers from the coastline and with a climate more rainy and cold.

Although the main objective of this research is to map the presence and absence of Leucaena leucocephala before it is considered a pest, Camacho also seeks to know the perception and use that people have of this species. This means better understanding how this plant interacts with other species of insects and native plants, and to do so community surveys are being conducted.


Mariana Camacho captura el drone después de mapear la zona

Leucaena leucocephala is considered one of the most invasive species in the world because its seed is easy to disperse, and the wind, birds, insects and even humans help in this process,” says Camacho.

According to Rivas, the use of drones in this research has allowed a broader and more realistic view of the space that this plant is occupying and the speed at which it spreads.

In addition, a predictive map will be prepared to provide local authorities with a clear scenario on which to guide the control and elimination of invasive species that represent a danger to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands.

This work is carried out under the research permit PC 41-21 processed by the Charles Darwin Foundation and with Gonzalo Rivas’ accompaniment, a researcher and professor at the Galapagos Science Center. This project exemplifies how inter-institutional collaboration strengthens science and conservation.


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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!