Among flagship species for conservation, Lonesome George is perhaps the most renowned. Long thought to be the sole survivor of a species of giant Galpagos tortoise (Geochelone abingdoni), this conservation icon may not be alone for much longer. Researchers headed by investigators at Yale University report these findings in work published online on April 30th in the journal Current Biology, published by Cell Press.
Lonesome George originates from Pinta, an isolated, northerly island of Galpagos visited only occasionally by scientists and fishermen. In the late 1960s, it was noted that the tortoise population on this island had dwindled close to extinction. Indeed, in 1972 only a single male, Lonesome George, was found. He was immediately brought into captivity at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz, where he is housed with two female tortoises from a species found on the neighboring island of Isabela. After 35 years, Lonesome George remains uninterested in passing on his unique genes and has failed to produce offspring. His status as the rarest living creature (Guinness Records) and the continuing saga surrounding the search for a mate have positioned Lonesome George as a potent conservation icon, not just for the Galpagos, but worldwide.
In the new work, Dr. Michael Russello (presently at the University of British Columbia Okanagan), Dr. Adalgisa Caccone, Dr. Jeffrey Powell, and colleagues, with the strong support and cooperation of the Galpagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station, studied the evolutionary history of a species of Galpagos tortoise (G. becki) on Isabela Island that was previously known to be genetically mixed. The study analyzed the distribution of genetic variation within two G. becki populations across the nuclear genome relative to a large database including individuals from all 11 extant species of Galpagos tortoises. The nearly extinct G. abingdoni on Pinta was added to the analysi
Contact: Erin Doonan