A former Five Islands’ School pupil is hoping to save species of birds found on the Galapagos Islands from extinction.
Becky Boulton of Bryher has begun a 3-year project at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.
She’ll be studying an invasive fly, accidentally introduced to the Ecuador-owned islands, and which is threatening the so-called Darwin’s Finches.
The name covers 15 species of passerine birds, which are named after the naturalist after he studied them for his research into evolutionary theory.
Some experts think that the birds could be wiped out in 50 years as the flies lay eggs in their nests.
The larvae can get inside the young chicks and that has led to a high mortality rate.
Becky told ScillyToday that in order to control the flies, scientists need to understand their basic biology, life history and ecology, and that is what she will be doing.
“The main challenge is to understand the fly mating system, because at the moment it has been impossible to get flies to mate in the laboratory, which means we can’t conduct any controlled experiments.”
Part of Becky’s project involves assessing whether it is safe to release a wasp, which will control the flies by parasitising them.
The female wasps lay their eggs on the developing larvae and, when they hatch, they eat that larvae.
Becky says they need to be sure that the wasps won’t impact on any other flies that are endemic to Galapagos.
Since leaving Scilly, Becky studied Animal Behaviour in Chester and undertook a master’s degree in Primate Conservation, Biology and Behaviour in Roehampton.
She was a research assistant on a baboon project in Namibia and her paper entitled Facial Asymmetry in Baboons was accepted for publication in the journal Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology.’
For her PhD Becky studied insects at the University of St Andrews.
Becky says Minnesota is very different to Scilly as it has been covered in snow since she flew over and you can’t get much further from the sea.
She also missed the ability to walk anywhere quickly. It takes her 45 minutes just to get to the supermarket on foot.
But she says the people are friendly and her accent has become a point of interest.
Becky puts her success in science down to her islands upbringing.
She says it gave her “an intuitive understanding of ecology, and the importance of island ecosystems and how fragile they can be.”
And she says the need to preserve the evolutionary and ecological heritage of Galapagos is important. She expects to spend some time in the islands following her work in the USA.