Fire and Water Forged The Unique Biology of The Galápagos


By Jane Palmer
12 April, 2017

These Pacific islands are famed for their odd collection of animal species, but scientists have only now begun to realise how the islands’ ancient history led to present day diversity.

About 14 million years ago, the tops of several volcanoes broke the surface of the Pacific Ocean, roughly 1,000km (about 600 miles) due west from the coast of Ecuador. These peaks formed an early Galápagos archipelago, which now consists of 19 larger volcanic islands and 120 smaller ones. The collective landmass provides home to an almost freakish ensemble of creatures such as giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies.

When Charles Darwin landed at San Cristóbal Island of the Galápagos in 1835, he compared the hot and dusty place to the infernos of hell. But his visit subsequently inspired his theory of evolution by natural selection and ultimately led him to write On the Origin of Species.

Since that date, the Galápagos have provided a scientific muse to biologists and geologists alike. But despite the discoveries that have been made in these natural laboratories, a shroud of mystery still surrounds them.

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