Well, I’m in Quito. Annoyingly, I can’t log into my webmail for some reason – some horrible bug in IE7 perhaps.
I spent the morning looking at pre-Hispanic stuff at the museum, which I enjoyed, and then took a token look at the glories of colonial Quito before deciding I needed to sit down for a bit.
I was thinking about how it’s slightly odd that the Galapaos have become a premier eco-tourism destination when it is in fact quite biologically impoverished. There are a total of 60 bird species you can see in the Galapagos, including some unremarkable passing American migrants like tattlers. Admittedly, 28 of those are unique to the islands, but by comparison, the record for a 24 hour birding session in mainland Ecuador is something like 470 species. Obviously the Galapagos has an iconic place in natural history because of the Darwin connection, and because it is literally the textbook example of natural selection, but actually there’s very little there – particularly by tropical standards.
Similarly, everyone gets taught about the Dawin finches and their different shaped beaks being adapted for different foods as though it was somehowa unique case. But of course it’s exactly what happened to finches all over the world. There must be about twenty species of finch in Europe, from the goldfinch with a little delicate beak for eating thistle seeds to the hawfinch with a huge beak that can crack cherry seeds. Not to mention the crossbill, with a beak that crosses over to allow it to get the seeds from pine cones. Again, the Galapagos makes a good teaching example not because it’s a particularly spectacular or unusual example, but because it’s such a simple and narrow one. The thirteen species of Galapagos finch are quite cool, especially the ones like the Woodpecker Finch which are least like classic finches in behaviour. But how much cooler and more remarkable are the 131 species of hummingbird in Ecuador. I mean really, how can there be 131 niches for nectar-eating birds in one country?
Though the Galapagos marine iguanas are pretty unique. And the daisies that have evolved into large trees.