New Species of Giant Tortoise Found in the Galápagos

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New Species of Giant Tortoise Found in the Galápagos

Paging Charles Darwin: The island of Santa Cruz within the
Galápagos has not one but two distinct species of giant tortoise, a new genetic
study finds out..
 

Approximately about four  years now, researchers thought that the
giant tortoises living in the western and eastern sides of Santa Cruz belonged
to the same species. But the tortoises look slightly different, and so
recently, scientists ran genetic tests on about 100 tortoises from both groups. This was not far in disparity from the discovery of Fossil of giant winged ‘Dakotaraptor’ discovered in northwestern
South Dakota.
The tests were definitive and proportionally accurate: The two
tortoise populations, which live only about 6 miles (10 kilometers) apart on
the opposite sides of the island, are actually extremely distant relatives
“We
immediately found that [the eastern tortoises] were very distinct from
the other ones,” said the study’s senior author, Adalgisa Caccone, a
senior ecology and evolutionary biology research scientist at Yale University.
“As distinct as species from different islands.”
The Santa Cruz tortoise species that has long been called Chelonoidis
porter
 are the ones living on the western side, in a region of the
island known as La Reserva. And now, the newly identified eastern Santa Cruz
tortoise has been named Chelonoidis donfaustoi. It inhabits an area
known as Cerro Fatal. 
Furthermore, the two species evolved millions of years in
abject separation. The western tortoises are seemingly fraction of
the oldest giant tortoise lineage in the Galápagos, which evolved about
1.74 million years ago. In contrast, the eastern tortoises are much younger —
they evolved less than half a million years ago. The genetic tests showed that
the eastern tortoises are more closely related to tortoises found on other
Galápagos Islands than they are to the tortoises living on the western side of
their own island, the researchers found.
The  procedural findings probably without antagonism may
change how scientists approach the conservation of tortoises in the GalápagosCaccone told Live Science. Right now, the western Santa Cruz
tortoise population is booming, with about 2,000 members, whereas the eastern
species has only about 250 individuals, Caccone said. Now that researchers know
the eastern group is a separate species, it may receive increased habitat
protection, she said.
The  discovery of the new species “will
help these tortoises receive
the scientific and management attention they need to fully recover,” James
Gibbs, a co-author of the study and a conservation biologist at the SUNY
College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, said in a statement.
The nomenclature of the new species honors Fausto Llerena
Sánchez, a Galápagos National Park ranger who spent 43 years caring for
endangered tortoises in captivity.

“His dedication to his work has been educative and
inspirational,” Gibbs said
.The populations of giant tortoises in the Galápagos have dropped
to historic lows, largely because of human
exploitation
, invasive species and habitat degradation, the
researchers said.

The findings were published online today (Oct. 21) in the journal PLOS ONE.

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Written by Johnson Joseph (Editor & Defender
at Jaysciencetech)
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