“I was always amused when overtaking one of these great monsters [a tortoise], as it was quietly pacing along, to see how suddenly, the instant I passed, it would draw in its head and legs, and uttering a deep hiss fall to the ground with a heavy sound, as if struck dead. I frequently got on their backs, and then giving a few raps on the hinder parts of their shells, they would rise up and walk away; – but I found it very difficult to keep my balance.” -Charles Darwin

The Galapagos Islands house some of the world’s most unusual and uniquely adapted plants and animals in the world. This includes giant trees that evolved from the humble dandelion, tortoises the size of boulders, and birds and iguanas that feed beneath the sea. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that plants and animals made it to this remote region of Earth, given wind, ocean currents and flying/swimming animals.

The large plants and animals of the Galapagos Islands, including the large tortoises for which the island is named, require volcanic rock to be transformed into fertile soil. Image credit: David Adam Kess of Wikimedia Commons.

The large plants and animals of the Galapagos Islands, including the large tortoises for which the island is named, require volcanic rock to be transformed into fertile soil. Image credit: David Adam Kess of Wikimedia Commons.

But it is surprising that they were able to thrive on these volcanic islands, given that igneous rock has none of the properties you need for rich, fertile soil. Yet the physics of the islands themselves allow them to create their own rain, which leads to the incredible habitats they now exhibit today. All it takes, after that, is the arrival of plants and animals capable of filling those niches.

The rising air over the tall island mountains on the Galapagos result in rain, which result in the creation of soil and the eventual greening of the island, particularly at the highest elevations. Image credit: Sean Russell / flickr.

The rising air over the tall island mountains on the Galapagos result in rain, which result in the creation of soil and the eventual greening of the island, particularly at the highest elevations. Image credit: Sean Russell / flickr.

Come get the story of how science brought habitability to the Galapagos Islands!

Comments

  1. #1 eric
    April 25, 2017

    Mosses, algae, semi-aquatic plants and the animals that feed on them will thrive near the coast, but elsewhere on the island is much more foreboding. Volcanic rock is largely inhospitable to complex life, as the dry, nutrient-free rock cannot sustain very much at all.

    Watching Planet Earth II, I was struck by just how inhospitable Zavadovski Island is. Evidently the volcano is still active and has covered much of the island’s surface in fresh volcanic rock as recently as the 1800s. So basically, there’s little or no growing things on it. And yet, it’s home to a million penguins. So it’s not just mosses and algae that start the process of turning rocky wastelands into green pastures.

  2. #2 PJ
    Perth, west Oz
    April 25, 2017

    Perhaps Isabela could be renamed Sea Horse Island? A pretty good rendition, methinks.

    Guano, the value-added byproduct of/for life to be maintained.
    🙂

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