GCRF_NF143 Barcoding Galapagos: Recording and mitigating Covid-19 impacts using key-workers in eco-tourism

  • Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Total publications:0 publications

Grant number: EP/V029118/1

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Key facts

  • Disease

    COVID-19
  • Start & end year

    2020
    2021
  • Known Financial Commitments (USD)

    $611,909.76
  • Funder

    UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Principle Investigator

    Pending
  • Research Location

    Ecuador, Americas
  • Lead Research Institution

    University of Exeter
  • Research Category

    Secondary impacts of disease, response & control measures

  • Research Subcategory

    Economic impacts

  • Special Interest Tags

    Gender

  • Study Subject

    Non-Clinical

  • Clinical Trial Details

    N/A

  • Broad Policy Alignment

    Pending

  • Age Group

    Adults (18 and older)

  • Vulnerable Population

    Unspecified

  • Occupations of Interest

    Other

Abstract

The diversity of life in a given area, its biodiversity, is fundamental to the stability and function of the ecosystem within that area, as well as to the services it can provide, including eco-tourism. However, we generally have limited knowledge of the constituents of biodiversity, with implications for our understanding of ecology and evolution, and the implementation of conservation. For example, even for conspicuous animals, such as birds, history has taught us that it is difficult to define a species based on traditional methods of grouping around morphology or song. By revealing hidden variation, molecular genetics has, more recently, exposed hundreds of new species of birds, and there are thought to be hundreds more to be discovered. In addition, molecular methods allow us to detect connectivity between populations, identify sub-species or races and uncover the genetic signature of individuals within a specific area. In turn, these allow us to study speciation in action, recognise threats to population viability, inform captive breeding programmes and even spot individuals that are illegally trafficked or caught. Finally, molecular tools are the fastest method of identifying plankton, the engine of our seas, and are the only viable means of estimating the number and signatures of species at the base of the tree of life (e.g., microbes). We propose to barcode the unique biodiversity of Galapagos, the inspiration for amongst the greatest scientific revolutions in history - Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Today, this Natural World Heritage site (est.1976) and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (est.1984) not only continues to help us understand the process of evolution by natural selection, but also inspires pioneering models of sustainability, conservation and ecotourism. Such models are celebrated for their long-term solutions to existing tensions between the preservation of biodiversity and the social-economic well-being of local inhabitants. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed their vulnerability to short-term perturbation. The consequence of this vulnerability is obviously far-reaching for a community wherein 80% are reliant on tourism. This not only means that the biodiversity from which we have learned so much and upon which the Galapagos' relies for its ecotourism industry, is under imminent threat from harvesting, but also that the naturalist guides, who are the 'eyes' of the park and disseminate Darwin's legacy to the 275,000 tourists annually, have lost their income. Our vision is to train and employ 84 naturalist guides to catalogue the biodiversity of Galapagos, from microbe to mammal, using 21st century genetic barcoding approaches. This 'Barcode of Life' project will ensure that: (1) the genetic profile of Galapagos is documented and curated so that the direct and indirect impacts of environmental perturbations can be quantified; and (2) naturalist guides, who are central to economic recovery for a population almost entirely reliant on ecotourism, receive immediate capacity-building employment. Throughout, we will (3) record the socio-economic consequences of our approach at the level of individuals and the community in order to guide future attempts at using locally-driven research to improve the socio-economic well-being and resilience of key workers in the ecotourism industry. Our project partner, the Galapagos Conservation Trust, will ensure that our initiative is widely publicised and discussed in schools, in the local community and with the numerous stakeholders (including National Parks, Biocontrol Agency, and the numerous NGO's working in the Galapagos). This novel initiative to barcode an ecosystem puts science at the forefront of socio-economic well-being, and acts as an important reminder of the long-term benefits of sustainable natural resources for employment and education.