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100-year-old specimens at California museum help determine when avian pox hit Galapagos
Date:1/13/2011

expedition to these storied islands in 1905. For about a year, the Academy's team of scientists inventoried everything from plants, fossils, and birds that are now extinct to the iconic marine iguanas that still bask on coastal rocks. By the time the team returned to San Francisco, the 1906 earthquake and fire had destroyed most of the Academy's research collections, so the 70,000 scientific specimens collected during the expedition formed the basis for rebuilding the institution. Since then, the Academy has organized dozens of return trips and is now home to the world's largest collection of scientific specimens from the Galapagos. Most of the museum's current field work in the Galapagos focuses on the marine environment, where dozens of new species have been discovered in the last decade.

The PLoS ONE study is the latest example of how this invaluable collection continues to provide insight into evolutionary and ecological processes on the islands. According to the paper, the role of disease in regulating populations is controversial, partly owing to the absence of good disease records in historic wildlife populations. The authors hope to fill that void with the new approaches taken in their paper.

"The combination of an extensive museum collection and modern genetics and histology have allowed us to home in on the arrival date of an important virus that threatens today's populations of unique birds," said Parker, Professor of Zoological Studies at the University of MissouriSt. Louis and lead author on the paper. "We are all excited to not only have the arrival date estimate, but to have important insights into the role that humans have played (and still play) in spreading pathogens like this virus."

Parker and her colleagues note that while there have been no known extinctions of bird species on the Galapagos Islands as a whole, the extinction rate on individual islands is approximately 100 times higher since human coloniz
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Contact: Stephanie Stone
sstone@calacademy.org
415-379-5121
California Academy of Sciences
Source:Eurekalert  

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