Mosquitoes introduced to the Galápagos on chartered flights and tourist boats could put the islands’ unique species at risk of extinction, scientists warn.
According to a study published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B, aircraft are routinely introducing mosquitoes into the islands' ecosystem.
Many of these will carry diseases such as avian malaria or West Nile fever, with potentially devastating consequences for the native species, including Galápagos tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions and Darwin’s finches.
“The animals have evolved in the absence of these diseases so they have virtually no resistance,” said Simon Goodman, a geneticist from the University of Leeds who led the research.
One infectious mosquito was enough to trigger an outbreak of disease, he added.
If the mosquito infected a bird or animal that was then bitten by other mosquitoes these would also become carriers of the disease. Once a small proportion of the mosquito population became carriers a disease outbreak was almost inevitable.
The scientists found that live insects were being introduced regularly to the islands in aircraft holds. All flights to the Galápagos have to fly from Guayaquil in Ecuador. Eleven live mosquitoes were found in 126 flights leaving the coastal city in 2006-07.