Galapagos disease threat

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Galapagos disease threat

Postby Tortoise Trust » Tue Jun 02, 2009 5:47 am

Some of the most iconic wildlife on the Galapagos Islands is coming under threat from a new source – the mosquito.

Scientists have discovered the Galapagos form of the black salt marsh mosquito (Aedes taeniorhynchus) has recently shifted its behaviour to feed mainly on reptiles – primarily Galapagos giant tortoises and marine iguanas.

Experts are now fearful that the species could come under serious threat if a new mosquito-born disease is introduced; a threat that is becoming increasingly more likely with the continuing rise in tourism to the islands.

The new study found mosquitoes colonised the Galapagos around 200,000 years ago and were not, as previously thought, introduced by humans, giving them time to adapt to conditions in Galapagos.

Researchers claim the shift in feeding behaviour from mammals to reptiles may be an adaptation to life on the islands, considering there were few mammal species prior to the arrival of humans some 500 years ago.

"The genetic differences of the Galapagos mosquitoes from their mainland relatives are as large as those between different species, suggesting that the mosquito in Galapagos may be in the process of evolving into a new species," said Arnaud Bataille, from the University of Leeds.

Mosquitoes are known to transmit important wildlife diseases, and while there is no evidence of it occurring on the Galapagos yet, the widespread presence of the mosquito, and the fact that it feeds on a broad range of the native species, means that any new disease that arrives from the continent could spread rapidly to a wide variety to wildlife throughout the islands.

Researchers also warn that due to the fact Galapagos wildlife was isolated for so long is unlikely to have much immunity to new diseases, suggesting the effects could be "devastating".

Commenting, Dr Andrew Cunningham, from the Zoological Society of London, said: "With tourism growing so rapidly the chance of a disease-carrying mosquito hitching a ride from the mainland on a plane is also increasing, since the number of flights grows in line with visitor numbers.

"If a new disease arrives via this route, the fear is that Galapagos' own mosquitoes would pick it up and spread it throughout the archipelago."

Experts conclude it is more important to avoid introducing new diseases than implementing control measures against the mosquito.
Tortoise Trust
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Re: Galapagos disease threat

Postby kreptile » Tue Jun 02, 2009 7:56 am

I have just had an article on this forwarded to me !

Scary stuff.

ZSL London have also run an artcile on it ... Mosquitoes

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