Extinct may not be forever for some species of Galapagos tortoises

Sep 23, 2008
Hybrid tortoise on Volcano Wolf. Image: Claudio Ciofi

Yale scientists report that genetic traces of extinct species of Galapagos tortoises exist in descendants now living in the wild, a finding that could spur breeding programs to restore the species, The report appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When Darwin first visited the island of Floreana in 1835 and wrote about the giant tortoises, heavy human exploitation was already decimating the population. Within a few decades, 4 of the 15 known species had disappeared. On some islands, tortoises were sacrificed for oil that was used to light the streetlights of Quito, Equador. Others were taken as food or ballast for pirate and whaling ships.

Museum specimens and current molecular technology, coupled with 15 years of field work studying the tortoise population present now on the Galapagos archipelago by Gisella Caccone and Jeffrey Powell, faculty in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, has painted a new picture of the origins and future of some of the tortoises.

"Connecting the past and present through genetic markers identified in the museum specimens — including the extinct species — has been key," said Caccone.

The database they established includes information from more than 2000 animals — so they know the genetic profile of each population. Their data show that all the known species and taxons of tortoises are genetically unique, which allows them to identify animals whose genetic information came from another species.

Matching museum specimens to current populations showed both distinct lineages and intermingled species. Of particular note, the team found tortoises on Volcano Wolf of the island Isabella — the furthest separated island of the archipelago — that had both the mitochondrial DNA and nuclear markers of the Floreana lineage.

"The population on Volcano Wolf is the most heterogeneous population we have seen," said Powell. He postulates that this island was the last stop for whaling and pirate ships heading out across the ocean to jettison their tortoise "ballast." Before they could retrieve the tortoises on a return trip, they the animals likely wandered and interbred.

Genes of the famous "Lonesome George" were also found in the Volcano Wolf population.

Hybrids of the extinct Floreana tortoise line theoretically now could be bred, the researchers say, and over a long span, revive this species. With this in mind, an expedition on Volcano Wolf is planned in December 2008 to look for tortoises bearing the Floreana lineage. Work is also under way to completely sequence the tortoise genome to gain a better understanding of these animals.

An interview with Caccone and Powell is available on iTunesU and online at Yale at streaming.yale.edu/opa/podcasts/audio/schools/science/caccone_091508.mp3

Citation: Proc. National Academy of Sciences: (online September 23, 2008).

Source: Yale University

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User comments : 8

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2 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2008
Finally some interesting environmental science! Some environmental science focused on a realistic way to make things better rather than prattle on about how the rest of the unwashed masses should live our lives!

The environmental sciences could do with more scientists and fewer preachers. Thank you for this.
4 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2008
Perhaps the current species of tortoise is better adapted. So, why bring back the old species?
not rated yet Sep 23, 2008
Playing the devil's advocate here....

Because it seems that the current vogue in environmental science is that change is bad and that we have to keep things static/"sustainable".

Too bad the only constant in the universe is change.
not rated yet Sep 23, 2008
There is no well thinking person who would expext a static universe, anyone with a decent education will conclude that it never will be.

Enviromental science knows that of course too, they are no idiots(some probably are ,despite their knowlede ,but in general)
What they warn about usually is the changes that are too big for humanity to deal with in the normal way of doing things.

1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2008
Anyone who thinks human beings aren't as natural to "the system" as hermit crabs IS an idiot...which includes most environmental scientists.

Anything humans do is "bad", unnatural, unsustainable, or otherwise outside nature's "will" (as if a simple cycle of chemical processes driven by solar heating can have a will).

What they all mean to say is that they'll get more grant money if they pretend man is unnatural and stroke certain folks' political agendas.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2008
Yes there is a big secret orgainisation that gives out grants to scientists that can prove that humans are bad.Because they believe humans are bad, its that simple really.

Its all a big conspiracy.

not rated yet Sep 24, 2008
Actually it's not a secret organization and it's well documented who gets what grant money for this kind of thing...and it most certianly ISN'T the folks who say there's nothing to worry about.

After all if there's nothing to worry about, then why do you need money to study it.
not rated yet Sep 24, 2008
Explain how the corrupt system works and please give some credible sources, it really sounds like a conspiracy.

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