The relationship between Galapagos tortoises and their parasitic worms, and how this can inform conservation management, is the topic of a new research paper.

The study explored the relatonship between the Galapagos tortoise and their parasitic worms. Photo credit: Free Images – Jacqueline Fouche.

The study shows wild giant tortoises of the Galapagos may host groups of parasitic worms unique to each tortoise species and island.

Researchers studied the faecal samples from endangered Galapagos giant tortoises.

They used a variety of egg shapes and sizes produced by different species of parasitic worms living in the intestines of the tortoises as an indicator of parasite diversity.

While all the Galapagos tortoise species share a common ancestor, these findings suggest tortoises and parasites co-evolved as they colonised different islands around the Galapagos archipelago.  

Galapagos tortoise conservation breeding programmes need to ensure the unique parasite communities are maintained. More generally, conservation programmes globally need to take parasite community structure into consideration when conserving their hosts to avoid important implications for the short-term health and long-term evolution of species.  

The paper, published in research journal PLOS ONE, is a collaborative study between the Zoological Society of London, the Royal Veterinary College, the University of Leeds, the University of Guayaquil in Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park.  

Reference Fournié G et al (2015). Biogeography of parasitic nematode communities in the Galápagos giant tortoise: implications for conservation management, PLOS ONE.  

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