Although the magnificent frigatebird may be the least likely animal on the Galapagos Islands to be unique to the area, it turns out the Galapagos population of this tropical seabird may be its own genetically distinct species warranting a new conservation status, according to a paper by researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the University of Missouri-St. Louis published last week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The Galapagos Islands, which once served as a scientific laboratory for Charles Darwin, boast a number of unique plant and animal species, from tortoises to iguanas to penguins. Magnificent frigatebirds, however, can fly hundreds of kilometers across open ocean, suggesting that their gene flow should be widespread and their genetic make-up should be identical to those of the magnificent frigatebirds on the mainland coast of the Americas. Even Darwin predicted that most Galapagos seabirds would not be very different from their mainland counterparts. But researchers at SCBI conducted three different kinds of genetics tests and all yielded the same resultthe Galapagos seabirds have been genetically different from the magnificent frigatebirds elsewhere for more than half a million years.
"This was such a surprise," said Frank Hailer, a postdoctoral research associate at SCBI and lead author of the paper. "It's a great testimony to just how unique the fauna and flora of the Galapagos are. Even something that is so well-adapted to flying over open oceans is isolated there."
Scientists began the research to determine whether the magnificent frigatebird on the Galapagos was more similar genetically to the magnificent frigatebirds on the Caribbean side or the Pacific side of the islands. Using frigatebird samples from Betty Anne Schreiber at the National Museum of Natural History, Iris Levin and Patricia Parker at the
|Contact: Lindsay Renick Mayer|