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Tackling an Environmental Emergency in the Galapagos: Identifying Strategies to Combat the Invasive Parasitic Fly Philornis downsi

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A small tree finch, a species of bird in the Darwin's finch group threatened by the larvae of the invasive parasitic fly, Philornis downsi. (Photo: Michael Dvorak)

Stakeholders and international experts met at IAEA headquarters in Vienna from 11 to 13 June 2018 to discuss an environmental emergency in the Galapagos Islands: a parasitic fly infestation that is causing high mortality amongst some bird species.

The meeting, held in response to Ecuador’s request for IAEA assistance, brought together experts from around the world to discuss alternative pest management approaches to the fly, Philornis downsi, which was introduced to the Galapagos Islands in the 1960s and 70s.

The larvae of this invasive parasitic fly have a devastating effect on several small land birds, and are a significant cause of concern for conservation. The larvae are a particular threat to the world-famous – but endangered and declining – Darwin’s finches, including the very rare Mangrove finch and the Floreana mockingbird.

Meeting participants included Danny Rueda, representative of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNDP), Charlotte Causton, representative of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and international experts, as well as other stakeholders, with the IAEA headquarters serving as a hub for discussion. The important role of the GNDP in preserving biodiversity in Galapagos was acknowledged, a strategic research plan for land bird conservation in the Galapagos Islands was considered, and the best approaches to the problem as well as the potential role of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme were identified.

International experts, stakeholders from the Galapagos Islands and the IAEA met to discuss the best approach to mitigate the high mortality amongst some bird species caused by the parasitic fly Philornis downsi. (Photo: H.Pattison/IAEA)

A range of potential tactics were discussed during the meeting, including the possible use of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), with Ecuador’s national authorities, Galapagos stakeholders, international experts and IAEA staff agreeing on the need to engage in further research. Noting the urgency and unique characteristics of this environmental challenge, all participants agreed that insecticide treatment of nests and restricted captive breeding of the most endangered species can serve as a mitigation strategy until targeted nuclear technologies are developed that can effectively contribute to the pest management efforts so far conducted by the country and the international community.

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