The Galapagos has more than 45 endemic bird species, 42 reptiles, 15 mammals, and 79 fish that show the amount of life thriving on remote islands over thousands of years. But in recent months, the National Park has earned points in the rankings of exceptional rarities. lives in turtle fernandaMore than just one of the many giant tortoises identified in the Galapagos archipelago, with its stinginess and convex shell; Moreover perhaps the last example of a species considered extinct a century ago..
Named after its home, Fernandina Island, Fernanda is neither more nor less than a fantastic female giant tortoise.Chelonoidis phantasicus), a species believed to be extinct, and its discovery based on a series of “fantastic” coincidences. Fernanda is the second known turtle of this species in the world. Its predecessor was a specimen found on the same island in 1906, whose skeleton remained intact. at Princeton University.
Very different from the 13 other giant tortoise species in the Galapagos, the other turtle was a broad-shouldered male. The explorer Rollo Beck, who found it on Fernandina Island, described it as “fantastic” because of the extraordinary shape of its shell, overblown along the outer rim and a prominent ridge in the serrations.
The origin of the fantastic giant tortoise was a mystery for many years. This first specimen was thought to be unique and possibly “moved to the island”. As a result of this new finding, Princeton geneticist Peter Gant, who is knowledgeable in the evolution of the Galapagos Islands, “now seems to be one of the few who were alive a century ago”.
Ever since Beck found that animal, Fernandina Island, These giant tortoises can still live in the lava flows that occasionally emanate from their volcanoes. It is considered one of the most active in the world, and its last eruption occurred in 2009, according to records from the Institute of Geophysics of the National Polytechnic School of Ecuador.
In 1964, 18 dung of turtles were detected on the western slopes of the island. In the 2000s, fecal remains were again found and even a turtle sighting was reported. However, lava fields spreading across the island have blocked access to the interior of the island, thus slowing the possibility of finding more samples.
In fact, Fernanda found herself in what scientists know. kippakaIt is an oasis of undisturbed vegetation among lava rivers and is commonly found near the shore in Fernandina.
Advances in genome sequencing have allowed us to know that the turtle is not alone in the world. and that Fernanda also belongs to the lineage of rare fantastic turtles. It was Princeton University researcher Stephen Gaughran who was responsible for confirming what some had already sensed: Fernanda is very special. And this is why many scientists doubt it is the same specimen, despite being found in the same place as the turtle’s ancestor. This is not surprising, because when she arrived in the Fernanda Nature Park, she did with a much smaller body than her predecessor, possibly atrophied due to lack of food.
“He was not a native of the island”
“Like others, my first suspicion was that Fernanda wasn’t really a native of the island,” says Stephen Gaughran, a postdoctoral researcher in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton. Turtles do not know how to swim, but there are precedents for moving using ocean currents. In fact, two or three million years ago, a storm swept westward from the South American mainland to one or more giant tortoises. Couldn’t the same have happened to Fernanda?
By sequencing its genome and comparing it to that of 13 other Galapagos species, the researchers concluded that it is not at all similar to this member of the family, but to that of the only species ever found. tortoise. Research published in the journal, Nature, It highlights the innovative tool Gaughran developed to compare the DNA of existing species with fossilized species found in the museum.
Your tool is flexible enough to work on almost any type. “The software doesn’t care if it’s a seal, turtle, human or Neanderthal,” the researcher insists, insisting that “genetics is genetics” and that it’s the “interpretation” that makes one species different from another. your genetic code.
Is it the last copy?
This discovery opens the door to a new mystery: is Fernanda the last of her kind? Repeated excrement discoveries at Fernandina indicate that there may be an opportunity for conservation for this species, which, like other giant tortoises, has been declining in populations due to indiscriminate hunting by seafarers. “This discovery shows that these rare species can survive for long periods in isolated places,” says Grant, who thinks “this information is important for conservation.” “It encourages biologists to look further for the last individuals to save them from extinction.”
Also with this information it is possible to begin to answer how the Galapagos Islands were colonized. “The genetic study provides compelling clues to gene mixing with members of another population,” Grant notes, “and another intriguing finding is that the closest relatives are not on the nearest very large island (Isabela) but on another island (Spanish) far away. On the other side of Isabela. The question of how the ancestors got to Fernandina is still pending.”
Reference work: https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-022-03483-w#content
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