New species of giant tortoise discovered in Galapagos after DNA study

Giant tortoises, like this one at a breeding center on Santa Cruz Island, are only found on two remote groups of tropical islands.

A new species of giant tortoise has been discovered in the Galapagos after DNA testing revealed animals living on an island had yet to be registered, Ecuador’s environment ministry said.

Researchers compared genetic material from turtles currently living in San Cristobal with bones and shells collected in 1906 from a cave in the island’s highlands and found them to be different.

20th-century explorers never reached the lowlands to the northeast of the island, where the animals live today, and as a result, nearly 8,000 turtles match a different lineage than is commonly believed. thought before.

“The species of giant tortoise that inhabits San Cristobal Island, known until now scientifically as Chelonoidis chathamensis, genetically matches a different species,” the ministry said on Twitter on Thursday.

Galapagos Conservancy said in a newsletter that the species Chelonoidis chathamensis is “almost certainly extinct” and that the island had in fact been home to two different varieties of tortoises, one living in the highlands and the other in the lowlands.

Located in the Pacific about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are a protected wildlife area and are home to unique species of flora and fauna.

The archipelago was made famous by British geologist and naturalist Charles Darwin’s observations on evolution.

There were originally 15 species of giant tortoise on the islands, three of which became extinct centuries ago, according to the Galapagos National Park.

In 2019, a specimen of Chelonoidis phantastica was found on Fernandina Island over 100 years after the species was considered extinct.

The study by researchers from Newcastle University in Britain, Yale in the United States, the American NGO Galapagos Conservancy and other institutions was published in the scientific journal Heredity.

They will continue to recover more DNA from bones and shells to determine if the turtles living in San Cristobal, which spans 557 kilometers, should be given a new name.

Galapagos Island is Home to 36 Endangered Giant Tortoises

© 2022 AFP

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