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Galapagos tortoises are a migrating species
Date:11/27/2012

lcanic hillsides. They combined the GPS data with the temperature data and information about availability of vegetation.

The results show that the tortoises have a partial migration system, where not every individual migrates. Only the adult animals wander and only the larger specimens are more likely to move. In June they start their slow, tedious march which can be up to ten kilometres long into the highlands. Adult females remain in the lowlands until they lay their eggs and then they also make their way to the highlands. In contrast, the smaller tortoises stay in the lower elevated areas all year round.

Although giant tortoises are able to survive for up to one year without nourishment, which made them a popular staple for seamen, they nevertheless wander for large distances searching for food as this study shows for the first time. Why don't they just look for a shelter? The question of why the younger animals don't migrate hasn't been answered by the scientists yet. "Either the energy expenditure of this strenuous hike is too high, or there is still enough food available for the smaller animals." Stephen Blake suspects, "perhaps the younger animals can't tolerate the wet cold climate of the higher regions."

In other species, the largest and the most dominant individual does not migrate because it can best defend itself against its competitors. It doesn't have to leave to survive. However, among the Galapagos tortoises, it's usually the largest and most dominant individual which takes on this arduous journey.

Future studies on giant tortoise species of the other Galapagos Islands with varying ecological conditions will show how environment influences the migration scheme of these closely related reptiles. The scientists also want to include factors such as age, size, sex and morphology in their studies to see why the behaviour changes in different lifetime stages and what the trigger of migration is.

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Contact: Martin Wikelski
martin@orn.mpg.de
49-773-215-0162
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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