August 12, 2009

Galapagos Islands face a mosquito problem

Scientists say mosquitoes that might be carrying diseases lethal to many species of Galapagos Islands wildlife are being brought to the islands by aircraft.

Researchers from the University of Leeds, the Zoological Society of London, the University of Guayaquil, the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation said the mosquitoes are also being transported from island to island on tourist boats.

Arnaud Bataille, a Leeds doctoral student who led the study, said on average the number of mosquitoes per airplane is low, but many aircraft arrive each day from the Ecuadorian mainland in order to service the tourist industry.

The southern house mosquitoe (Culex quinquefasciatus) carries such diseases as avian malaria, avian pox and West Nile fever. The mosquito's introduction to Hawaii during the late 19th Century had a devastating effect on the islands' endemic birds, scientists said, and today only 19 out of 42 species and subspecies of honeycreeper, a small bird in the tanager family, remain.

Our research has shown that everything is in place for a similar disaster to occur in Galapagos as occurred in Hawaii, said Andrew Cunningham, a senior scientist at ZSL, Unless immediate and forceful mitigating actions are taken, it is only a matter of time before Galapagos wildlife meet the same fate as the Hawaiian honeycreepers.

The study appears online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.