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Pack rats: Professor works to help eradicate invasive rodents in the Galapagos Islands

Micah Benson | Art Director

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, James Gibbs’ name was misstated. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

James Gibbs, a professor at SUNY-ESF, recently traveled to a lesser-known locale: the Galapagos Islands.

Gibbs, who is also director of the Roosevelt Wild Life Station at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is part of a team of conservation scientists dropping poison bait on the Galapagos Islands in attempts to decrease the invasive rat population there.

Before the end of November, the bait will be dropped by helicopter on the islands of Pinzon and Plaza Sur. The bait is specially formatted to attract only rats, so it will not harm other animals, according to a Nov. 20 ESF news release.

In addition to the rat eradication project, Gibbs is working with two colleagues at Wildlife Intel to produce extremely high-resolution images of the islands. These images will help the team monitor the ecosystem’s response to the eradication, according to the release.

“The imaging is a first for Galapagos,” Gibbs said in the release. “If we can make this work several conservation groups want to start using it for monitoring ecological change due to management. We might end up with imagery from which individual cactus pads, tortoises etc. can be counted.”

The Galapagos Islands’ biodiversity is one of its most important features, and that diversity played a major role in the work of Charles Darwin, according to the release.

The nearly 180 million black and brown rats that now inhabit the islands were introduced to the Galapagos Islands by pirates and whalers in the 17th or 18th century, according to the release.

The rats are a major threat to biodiversity in the Galapagos because they prey on the eggs and hatchlings of the island’s birds and reptiles, according to the press release.

Gibbs has been involved with the Galapagos Islands in the past. In the last two years, he has worked with a team from ESF to help establish a population of giant tortoises on the island of Pinta to help restore the ecosystem. Gibbs is also a member of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s General Assembly, according to the release.

He is also currently preparing for a fellowship from Ecuadorian government’s science directorate, which involves enhancing scientific investigation within the Galapagos National Park Service, according to the release.

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