Could Genetic Engineering Save the Galápagos?

Nov 1, 2017

By Stephen S. Hall

Invasive species have been a problem in the Galápagos Islands since mariners first arrived there. Hundreds of introduced species of plants, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals live in the archipelago, displacing and in some cases preying on native species.

Eradicating invasive species can be a brutal job. On the island of Floreana, a plan to eliminate the rodents that raid the nests of native birds and reptiles calls for 400 tons of rat poison, requiring weeks of dislocation for pets, livestock and perhaps children.

Genetic manipulation—for example, tweaking sex inheritance in rodents to produce an all-male, and thus reproductively doomed, population—is being discussed as a safer alternative to poison and bullets. But what are the risks? And would it even work?

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One comment on “Could Genetic Engineering Save the Galápagos?”

  • @OP – Genetic manipulation—for example, tweaking sex inheritance in rodents to produce an all-male, and thus reproductively doomed, population—is being discussed as a safer alternative to poison and bullets. But what are the risks? And would it even work?

    Combatting invasive species which are moved around the planet by humans is a global problem, but particularly important in pristine nature reserves and areas of scientific interest.

    However, a certain amount of invasion, happens during the natural course of evolution and works at an accommodated non-disruptive pace.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42103058

    This is an image of the Big Bird lineage, which arose through the breeding of two distinct parent species: G. fortis and G. conirostris

    A population of finches on the Galapagos has been discovered in the process of becoming a new species.

    Perhaps unsurprising as mixing and sorting between sub-species, is very common.

    This is the first example of speciation that scientists have been able to observe directly in the field.

    I think this claim is dubious! Botanists I know have been observing hybridisation, diversification, and back-crossing for years.
    Because animals and especially birds, are mobile, it is more difficult to keep track of populations, except on isolated islands.

    Researchers followed the entire population of finches on a tiny Galapagos island called Daphne Major, for many years, and so they were able to watch the speciation in progress.

    This is taking a rare opportunity where the populations are sufficiently isolated to avoid repeat arrivals of the incoming species.

    The research was published in the journal Science.

    The group of finch species to which the Big Bird population belongs are collectively known as Darwin’s finches and helped Charles Darwin to uncover the process of evolution by natural selection.

    In 1981, the researchers noticed the arrival of a male of a non-native species, the large cactus finch.

    Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant noticed that this male proceeded to mate with a female of one of the local species, a medium ground finch, producing fertile young.

    Almost 40 years later, the progeny of that original mating are still being observed, and number around 30 individuals.

    “It’s an extreme case of something we’re coming to realise more generally over the years. Evolution in general can happen very quickly,” said Prof Roger Butlin, a speciation expert who wasn’t involved in the study.

    While evolution in action, is well illustrated by line species and ring species (eg. Northern Hemisphere Gulls), is well known, actually tracking individual birds, gives more fine detail.



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