Flightless cormorant: a destiny to change



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Flightless cormorant: a destiny to change

Flightless cormorant of the Galapagos is restricted to the coastal areas of the Fernandina and Isabela islands in the Galápagos archipelago. This species inhabits the rocky shores of the volcanic islands on which it occurs.

It forages in shallow coastal waters, including bays and straits. Flightless cormorants are extremely sedentary, remaining most or all of their lives, and breeding, on local stretches of coast-line several hundred meters long.

Their sedentary nature is reflected in a genetic differentiation between the main colonies, and particularly between Fernandina and Isabela Island. In an article that appeared in the journal Animal Kingdom, New York Zoological Society, in 1978, H.

Harrison suggested the idea that the flying cormorant may have been an inspiration to Lewis Carroll for his Alice in Wonderland.

Flightless cormorant: a destiny to change

It is unable to fly due to a mutation, which took place over 2 million years, of the Cux1 gene, which if mutated, alters the cells that promote bone growth.

It feeds on shrimp, octopus, fish. During the mating season, courtship begins with a kind of aquatic dance. Many of the studies on this species have been conducted by the ornithologist M. P. Harris, who in 1974 published the complete population census.

In 2004 about 1500 specimens survived and in 2013 an estimated 2080, it is considered as one of the rarest bird species in the world. Since 2011 the IUCN has classified it as a vulnerable species and previously it was classified as endangered, the improvement is due to the stabilization of the population, furthermore, the archipelago was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1978.

The Charles Darwin Research Station has monitored the species regularly to keep track of fluctuations in numbers over time. Conservation proposals include the continuation of annual monitoring programs, restriction on human visitation within the species range, and the prevention of fishing with nets in the bird's foraging range.

A rise of several degrees of sea surface temperature during the breeding season or persisting throughout the breeding season results in low breeding success. ENSO events appears to have increased in frequency and severity in recent decades, possibly associated with climate change.

A large oil spill would pose a threat. However, although the flightless cormorant population is small and its range limited, the ability of the species to breed quickly can allow it to recover from disasters as long as the population remains above a critical level.