STATES CHRONICLE – Darwin’s finches, or the Galapagos finches, played a huge role in the theory of evolution. They were a vital part in his establishment of the way new biological species appear. However, a species of fly could drive Darwin’s finches to extinction.
A parasitic fly that appeared on the Galapagos Island about 25 ago, probably stowed away aboard a ship, are steadily reducing the numbers of the Galapagos finches and slowly driving them to extinction.
The fly, Philornis downsi, is a parasitic insect that lays its eggs in the nests of various bird species. The baby finches are very small, about the size of a peanut M&M, so they can’t really do anything about the larvae that hatch from the fly’s eggs eating them. The babies in the infected nests usually die within a week, eaten alive by the larvae.
Dale Clayton, parasitologist for the University of Utah, studied the data related to the finches and the flies for 5 years, and then introduced into a mathematical computer algorithm in order to calculate the birds’ risk of extinction. The numbers didn’t look very good.
Even though surprised at the virulence of the parasite, the scientists are working on devising a number of ways to deal with the situation and to save the finches from extinction.
One of the solutions the experts came up with was to introduce a parasitoid wasp to kill off the fly population; however, this solution is quite iffy, as the parasitoid species has to be chose very carefully, as to not further negatively affect the environment.
A second solution would be to scatter a large number of cotton balls in the area, sprayed with an insecticide that is harmless to the birds. The birds would then use the cotton balls in the construction of their nests, and the flies and larvae would die, leaving the birds unharmed.
A third possibility would be the introduction of sterile males to the fly population, so they slowly die out over time.
All solutions would be very time consuming, and it would take a long time for them to actually work, but a reduction of 40% in the number of the flies should be enough to save the finch population.
Although, all of the solutions only take a mathematical point of view, so their accuracy is questionable.
Hopefully the researchers’ efforts will be rewarded, and the Galapagos finch will avoid extinction, unlike the unfortunate Galapagos turtle, for whose extinction Charles Darwin was partly responsible, as on his way home from the island, he ate around 40 of the animals. The more you know…
Image source: Flickr