Are Invasive Plants Saving the Tortoises?

posted: 04/06/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Galapagos giant tortoise
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A Galapagos giant tortoise in San Cristobal, Galapagos Island.

Endangered tortoises in the Galapagos Islands are benefitting nutritionally from invasive species of plant life, according to a new report from Washington University in Saint Louis. Non-native plants now comprise half the diet of the endangered tortoises.

Researchers were puzzled when they noticed tortoises migrating unnecessarily up mountains in search of the non-native plant life.

"Why would a 500-pound animal that can fast for a year and that carries a heavy shell haul itself up and down a volcano in search of food?," asked Dr. Stephen Blake. " Couldn't it just wait out the dry season until better times came with the rains?"

Upon closer inspection, however, veterinarians found that the tortoises' new diet was having a positive impact on their health.

"Consider it from a tortoise's point of view. The native guava, for example, produces small fruits containing large seeds and a small amount of relatively bitter pulp in a thick skin. The introduced guava is large and contains abundant sweet pulp in a thin, pliable skin," Blake added.

Click here for the full report from Washington University


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