Arrival to Ecuador and First Weeks in Galapagos

22 January 2017

We have now been in Ecuador for about three weeks and I admit that I am only now getting around to updating this blog. It seemed a good thing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I couldn’t get the post from a week ago to load due to a very erratic internet connection and I got involved in other things so it’s appended to this one.

The last week has seen us settling into the pace of things here in Puerto Ayora.   We have continued to explore the island of Santa Cruz going further out of town up to the highest area of the island to the zone of Scalesia (Asteraceae) and Miconia (Melastomataceae). Also more walks close to town have allowed us to explore more of the native environment.  The ubiquitous tree cacti (Opuntia echios) are truly amazing. It’s believed that the large tree forms are evolutionary adaptations to herbivory from tortoises.  On islands without tortoises you can find lower growing forms more similar to Opuntia seen in North America.

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Ross, Emiliano, and Ian exploring the highlands on Santa Cruz

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Opuntia echios

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Scalesia pedunculata

My work is going well.  I’ve been reviewing the collections at the herbarium at the Charles Darwin Research Center and reworking the treatment of the genus Froelichia (Amaranthaceae) for the archipelago.  Previous published work has never been completely clear on distributions with authors simply citing past works without checking their accuracy which has led to some false claims regarding distribution.  My greatest finding at this point is perhaps the realization that one taxon F. nudicaulis subsp. nudicaulis (there are five taxa in total for the genus in the islands) has not actually been collected since 1905.  I’m worried that this taxon may have gone extinct.  It’s a potential as another amaranth, Blutaparon rigidum, is known to now be extinct and other Amaranthaceae, particularly Alternanthera are threatened due to herbivory from introduced mammals. One goal for my fieldwork will be to search the areas where this taxon was previously collected in the hope it has simply been overlooked.

While I have yet to collect as I’m still waiting for all the permits to be completed I was excited to find Froelichia juncea subsp. alata in coastal forest not far from Puerto Ayora.  This taxon is restricted to the SE part of the island of Santa Cruz and exhibits an elongate inflorescence which is very atypical and particularly unique within the genus. Below is a photo – I promise something better later!

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Froelichia juncea subsp. alata

17 January 2017

Here we are! Bienvenido a Ecuador!

Our first stop was the city of Quito where we stayed for about a week. While in Quito we stayed in the downtown district of La Mariscal – an area full of activity and night life – although with two small kids walking by all the nightclubs in the evening prompted a few jokes from the guys on the street corner trying to get clients into their respective clubs.

While in Quito we took care of needed immigration paperwork and met the people at the Fulbright office – everyone was so welcoming and I am excited to be part of this cultural exchange! Also had the opportunity to visit with my collaborator Dr. Gonzalo Rivas at my host university (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) to work on logistical aspects of our project and I was able to give a talk to the science faculty introducing myself and my project.

We spent time seeing some of the sites around Quito. We visited the historic downtown and the Panecillo where there are fantastic views of the city. We also visited Parque La Carolina, the botanical garden and vivarium (herpetarium). Much of our wanderings around the city saw us walking in the rain. We are here during winter which means it is warm, but it rains a lot, which is actually a nice change from the cold and snow at home, so that has been fun. We also visited “Mitad del Mundo”, marking the point of the Equator and like any good tourist we had to place one foot in the Northern hemisphere and one in the Southern hemisphere. Aurea and I had visited here 14 years ago on a quick trip we made to Ecuador and it was nice to be back with our kids. We also visited a extinct volcanic crater, Pululahua where people are now practicing agriculture due to the fertile soils at the bottom of the crater. However one has to wonder what if the volcano decides to wake up one day…. for now it’s a paradise and looks like a wonderful place to live.

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Reserva Geobotanica Pululahua

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Aurea at the botanical garden in Quito

After a week in the capital we headed to the Galapagos Islands. We will be back to Quito in mid-March. Our flight left Quito with a short stop in the port city of Guayaquil. After a couple hours we arrived at Isla Baltra.  Movement of materials into the islands is highly controlled due to the fragile ecosystem. All luggage is searched for biological materials and all carry-on luggage was fumigated a little before we landed. Introduced insect pests can turn into a plague and in the past have had disastrous effects on native wildlife. From the airport we took a bus south to a small straight of water separating Islas Baltra and Santa Cruz. A short boat ride across the straight and then a taxi ride across the island of Santa Cruz took us to our final destination Puerto Ayora, the largest settlement in the islands. We are now living in a small house a few minutes from the beach and started our exploration of the islands.

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Puerto Ayora from near Punta Estrado

Our first few days in the Galapagos saw us learning our way around the town of Puerto Ayora and starting to explore the island of Santa Cruz.  We visited the Charles Darwin Research Center where I will be doing some work. We’ve seen some giant tortoises, visited lava tubes, and ventured to some beaches were the marine iguanas are so used to people that they seem to pose for the pictures.

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