By Mike McCarthy, Environment Editor
Monday, 29 June 2009
British conservationists are to launch an ambitious project to safeguard the future of a colony of Galapagos finches which inspired Charles Darwin to formulate his radical theory of evolution.
There are now only about 100 individuals left of the Galapagos mangrove finch, the rarest of the 14 closely related finch species that Darwin encountered when he visited the islands in 1835 as the naturalist on board the survey ship HMS Beagle.
All of these species evolved from a single common ancestor to fit different niches in the ecosystem, and when Darwin realised this once he was back in Britain, it helped to trigger his insight that completely new species could come into being through the process of natural selection.
The mangrove finch has shown the most extreme evolution of all: it inhabits only the narrow strips of mangrove swamp that are found in just a few parts of the Galapagos coastline.
Black rats which infested the holds of pirate ships have been identified as the chief culprits behind the destruction of the finches. The rats are thought to have arrived on Isabella, the largest of the Galapagos islands, on pirate vessels perhaps as early as the 16th century. Pirates used the archipelago, which is around 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, as a hiding place before sailing off to the Spanish shipping lanes in search of boats carrying treasure.
Keep Reading…..(Go To Source) – The Independent.co.uk