Parasitic nest fly may bring the Galapagos ground finch to extinction if a series of measures is not implemented soon to eradicate the parasite.
Scientists with the University of Utah created computer simulations to understand how much of a threat a parasitic fly is posing to the Galapagos ground finch, the bird that inspired Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Computer simulations revealed that under the current scenario, with the parasites infesting the birds’ nests and eggs, the final result is gloomy. Yet, there a glimmer of hope. Pest-control strategies may help the ground finch and keep population numbers well above alarming levels.
The study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology puts forth the idea that the parasitic nest fly may bring the Galapagos ground finch to extinction in no more than a few decades. Nonetheless, professor Dale Clayton, lead author on the study reassures everyone that with human intervention and pest-control strategies and adequate management, the extinction risk can be alleviated and avoided.
The study was conducted in the Galapagos, on the Santa Cruz Island. Here, approximately 270,000 ground finches have found a home. The Galapagos Islands are thought to be home to just over half a million ground finches. However, since the 1960s the birds got some pretty lousy neighbours. The parasitic fly was first documented in the ground finches nest in 1997.
After collecting data for about five years, professor Clayton and his colleagues set to create models and computer simulations to understand how the parasitic fly was affecting the birds’ reproduction. Ground finche breed more successfully and have higher chances of survival during those years where food is abundant thanks to heavy rainfall. If years are either extremely dry or wet, the survival and breeding chances lower.
Particularly during these times, the parasitic fly infests the nest of the ground finch. Then, the eggs are infested, lower the chances of brooding and survival of the species. In order to keep the ground finch out of risk, pest control strategies are needed. For instance, the introduction of wasps. Other strategies include the removal of chicks from the nests, using insecticides even under the form of cotton balls that could be collected by the ground finch.
The ground finch is only one of the between 14 to 18 finch species discovered by Darwin. Another species, the mangrove finch is already in danger of going extinct. Only two populations are left on one of the Galapagos islands. Other species include the small tree finch or the cactus finch.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia