HARRISONBURG, Va. - They are found nowhere else in the world - and the last look we have at them may be in a new book written and photographed by a James Madison University assistant professor of biology.
"They" are some of the endemic plants of the Galàpagos, a 13-island archipelago off the coast of Ecuador made famous in 1845 by naturalist Charles Darwin. In imminent danger of extinction due to pressures exerted by man, these and other plants are depicted in Conley K. McMullen's comprehensive field guide, "Flowering Plants of the Galàpagos."
"Many plants native to these islands are tremendously threatened right now," McMullen said. "Some of them are found nowhere else in the world. To lose them because of interference by humans would be a tragedy."
McMullen, who first traveled to the Galàpagos in 1983 as a graduate student studying plant pollination, said some areas of native vegetation are being choked out by imported plants that thrive in the moderate island climate. Several plants that were introduced for human use or simply because they were pretty have slowly encroached on some of the less competitive endemic species and are now on the verge of eliminating them.
Many of these imported plants have no practical uses, he said.
"Even the quinine tree, which produces a treatment for malaria, is useless in the Galàpagos," McMullen said. "There is no malaria in the islands, but the tree is there in nearly uncontrollable numbers."
An additional threat comes from the many thousands of wild goats that populate a few of the major islands. Originally brought in by Ecuadorians seeking a life in the islands, these animals have voracious, non-discriminating appetites. To them, said McMullen, vegetation is vegetation, whether it's endangered or not.
And then there's man himself.
"Even though tourism to the islands has gone from about 18,000 visitors per year 16 years ago to
approximately 70,000 per year
Contact: Dr. Conley McMullen
James Madison University