A rare mockingbird could be reintroduced to the Galapagos Islands – with the help of some specimens collected by Charles Darwin. A team of geneticists extracted DNA from two birds that the famous naturalist collected in 1835 while making his five-year voyage aboard HMS Beagle.
The Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus) became extinct on the island soon after Darwin's famous expedition, mainly because of human impact on its delicate habitat. The Charles Darwin Foundation
, which carries out conservation research in the Galapagos, is collaborating with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, to reintroduce the birds to Floreana.
Today two small sub-populations of the rare mockingbird survive on two tiny islets, named Champion and Gardner-by-Floreana. By comparing their DNA with Darwin's own samples, a study showed that the tiny sub-populations have retained much of the important "genetic variation" once found in the mockingbirds on Floreana.
It has led the researchers to conclude that future conservation plans should focus on protecting the two satellite populations in situ. They also hope to establish a third population on Floreana – to be restored "as close as possible to what existed before".
The researchers used two specimens that Darwin and Robert Fitzroy - the captain of HMS Beagle - collected from Floreana Island during their trip to the Galapagos more than 170 years ago.