The Galapagos Islands are famous as the site where Charles Darwin spent five weeks taking down careful notes that would later prove essential for formulating his ideas about how different species are related to one another, and what that implied for how they came to exist in the first place. Evidence for natural selection and evolution exists anywhere there is life, but the islands' extreme biodiversity, all within such a close area, provided a unique set of examples -- such as the celebrated finches, with their slight habitat-to-habitat variations -- for Darwin to work with.

But this remarkable ecosystem is not a strong one, threatened by invasive species, climate change, and development. By teaming up with the Charles Darwin Foundation, Google hoped to create a dataset that scientists could use in the years ahead as a baseline for monitoring the ecosystems' health, and then making policy recommendations for conservation and sustainable development. "Galapagos is probably the best preserved tropical archipelago in the world," Daniel Orellana of the Charles Darwin Foundation told me on the phone from the islands. "It's very important to have information to understand how the Galapagos ecosystem works in a world that is changing so fast."