Monday, September 7, 2015

Galapagos/Red Hills Similarities

     A recent trip to the Galapagos archipelago certainly highlighted the uniqueness of these islands and their natural resources. One might think a prairie traveler would be hard pressed to find similarities between the rolling mixed-grass prairie and these amazing habitats and their inhabitants. Surprisingly, some of the same species occur in both places.The seemingly ubiquitous Yellow Warbler is common to many of the islands of the Galapagos just as it is here on the plains.  And so it is with the Great Blue Heron as well. Even the Magnificent Frigatebird has been observed in Kansas and likely at least in the air space over the Red Hills. The most evident commonality though rests with the somewhat natural element of humans. Humans began occupying the Galapagos by early in the 1800's. Whaling ships had visited them much earlier. Humans have been in the Red Hills for much longer then when Sperm Whales were being slaughtered off the coast of South America. 
     The problem has been that the European humans which invaded both the Galapagos and the middle of this continent brought huge problems with them. Perhaps the biggest problem for the Galapagos Islands were the European rats-the Norway and the Black rats. They decimated native rodents as well as many species of birds and other wildlife. As is the case for so many exotic animals, when placed in a new environment, they have a major advantage and out-compete, out-populate, and eradicate native species.The Yellow Warbler and the Great Blue Heron are native species of both the Galapagos and the Red Hills and have adapted with the other native species. The Magnificent Frigatebird is just a very occasional visitor to Kansas and poses no threat. The European rats continue to be a huge threat to the Galapagos biota but not as prevalent in the grasslands of the Red Hills. However, humans are still introducing exotic species to the Red Hills. Old World Bluestem is the latest, greatest threat. We will deal more with that in a later blog post but for now, enjoy some of the critters that call both the Red Hills and the Galapagos home.
(All photos except the rat and Quito are from the Galapagos Islands.)

This Yellow Warbler was photographed in the Galapagos Islands but is common to Kansas as well.
Another species photographed on the Galapagos Islands but very common in our prairie world as well is the Great Blue Heron.

A young Magnificent Frigatebird such as this has been documented in Kansas skies as well as the Galapagos Islands where it is common.

Probably the biggest threat to the Galapagos Islands are humans.  As evidenced by this concentration of humans in Quito on the mainland of Ecuador, there is a growing population in three main communities in the islands.  New residency as well as tourism is tightly controlled although it could change drastically in the future.  The new demands for space and resources for additional residents and tourism infrastructure could "love" the islands to death.  

The Norway Rat was brought to the Galapagos Islands even before settlement as stowaways on whaling ships before 1800.  It and its relative, the Black Rat, have decimated native wildlife and plant populations.  However, in recent decades, there has been some success in eradication programs for these species on some of the islands.  (Photo courtesy of Kansas Mammals Atlas, Sternberg Museum and Fort Hays State University.)