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This article is from the In-Depth Report Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Darwin
60-Second Science

Galapagos Invaders Actually Native Species

Fossil remains show that some plant species believed to have invaded the Galapagos islands about 500 years ago are in fact natives. Ecologists can examine fossil remains to determine what really belongs in a given habitat. Adam Hinterthuer reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Darwin's fabled isles, the Galápagos, are in need of a makeover. And removing invasive species of plants tops the to-do list for the islands’ restoration. But six species that were set to be exterminated have gotten a reprieve. Because a new study finds that they’re actually natives.

The species were all thought to have been brought to the Galápagos by European travelers 500 years ago. But, by examining fossilized pollen and other plant remains, an international group of scientists found traces of each species dating back many thousands of years. Their discovery is reported in the November 21st issue of the journal Science.

Since millions of dollars are spent worldwide each year in battles against invasive plants, the researchers say that conservationists need to step back and reconsider what really belongs. Such deliberation is especially true in areas with high biodiversity, where thousands of different species can make an accurate ecological history hard to come by. That means paleobotanical input—the consideration of plant fossils—could play an important role in future eco-restorations. Because those who don't know history are doomed to replant it.

—Adam Hinterthuer 

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