Ecuador's Galapagos visitors in a Darwin-win situation

16th Jan 2014

Trekking holiday fans who have been flocking to Ecuador's "Land That Time Forgot" for decades can have the best of both worlds.

They can enjoy the Galapagos Islands' tame giant tortoises, prehistoric lizards, sea lions, penguins and myriad bird species and get up close and personal with them.

Now scientists have discovered why this is.

They have confirmed evolutionist Charles Darwin's theory that the Pacific Ocean awesome archipelago of volcanic islands contained tamer animals than those elsewhere.

Their discovery comes over 180 years after the celebrated naturalist and geologist made the observation about his treasured islands 1,000km (620 miles) off Ecuador.

Darwin questioned if they had evolved in that way after inhabiting areas without several predators.

The notion was a spin-off of Darwin's evolutionary theories about natural selection.

These stated that animals would alter, and eventually become better adapted to their surroundings down the generations.

Now, 183 years after Darwin set sail on HMS Beagle to the Galapagos, researchers have proven that island lizards are indeed "tame", compared with their mainland counterparts.

The scientists from the University of California, Riverside, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne and George Washington University discovered that they could approach island lizards and get much nearer to them then they could mainland ones.

Today holidaymakers on group tours to the Galapagos Islands can also enjoy the delights of blue-footed boobies, red-throated frigatebirds and swimming hammerhead sharks.

Theodore Garland, from University of California Riverside told "Our study confirms Darwin's observations and numerous anecdotal reports of island tameness."

Scientists examined the link between flight initiation distance (the moment in which a predator's prey starts to flee), distance from the mainland, island area and activities of 66 different species of lizards.

Prof. Garland said that the escape responses are reduced on remote islands as there are fewer predators, so natural selection benefits animals that have no need to flee.

The findings will be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B next month.

Copyright Press Association 2014

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