The Role of Endangered Species Reintroduction in Ecosystem Restoration: Tortoise–Cactus Interactions on Española Island, Galápagos

Authors

  • James P. Gibbs,

    Corresponding author
    1. State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY 13210, U.S.A.
      Address correspondence to J. P. Gibbs, email jpgibbs@esf.edu
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  • Cruz Marquez,

    1. Charles Darwin Research Station, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
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  • Eleanor J. Sterling

    1. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to J. P. Gibbs, email jpgibbs@esf.edu

Abstract

We evaluated the role that endangered species reintroduction efforts can play in the larger context of ecosystem restoration. To do so, we examined interactions between endangered giant tortoises (Geochelone nigra hoodensis), currently being reintroduced to Isla Española, Galápagos, and an arboreal cactus (Opuntia megasperma var. megasperma), which is itself endangered and a keystone resource for many animals on the island. We collected information on spatial patterns of occurrence of cacti, tortoises, and woody vegetation and compared recruitment of juvenile cacti in areas occupied versus unoccupied by tortoises. Reintroduced tortoises appeared to suppress cactus recruitment near the few remaining adult cacti at the study site, but facilitate it at longer distances, with tortoise–cactus interactions mediated by the presence of woody vegetation, which likely alters tortoise movements and thereby patterns of cactus seed dispersal. The net effect of tortoises on cacti appeared to be positive insofar as tortoise presence was associated with greater recruitment of juveniles into cactus populations. Our study provides support for reintroducing endangered reptiles and other animals to aid ecosystem restoration in areas where they might once have played an important role in grazing upon and dispersing plants.

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