'Extinct' humongous Galapagos tortoise could be making a comeback
A genetic analysis of a Galapagos tortoise revealed DNA from a related species thought to have gone extinct 150 years ago, suggesting that the two species are mating and producing hybrid offspring.
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"To our knowledge, this is the first report of the rediscovery of a species by way of tracking the genetic footprints left in the genomes of its hybrid offspring," study researcher Ryan Garrick, who performed the work at Yale University, but is now assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, said in a statement. "These findings breathe new life into the conservation prospects for members of this flagship group."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Animals of the Galapagos
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Because of genetic differences between the hybrid tortoises, the researchers estimate that at least 38 C. elephantopus left behind hybrid descendants on the Galápagos Islands, and many may still be alive.
Planning a comeback tour
If the researchers can find this hidden population, they could capture individuals to set up a breeding program to regenerate the species, the authors write in the paper published Jan. 9 in the journal Current Biology. They could even try to resuscitate the species from the genetic snippets found in C. becki.
"This is not just an academic exercise," study researcher Gisella Caccone, of Yale University, said in a statement. "If we can find these individuals, we can restore them to their island of origin. This is important as these animals are keystone species playing a crucial role in maintaining the ecological integrity of the island communities."
In an interesting twist, the researchers aren't sure how the giant tortoises would have gotten from Floreana Island to Isabela — they suggest the animals may have been brought to Isabela as food and then either thrown overboard or left on the shore.
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