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IC Student Observes Evolutionary Differences between Species during Study Abroad in the Galapagos

Written by Melissa Dellacato

Laurel Maley '17 saw Galapagos Giant Turtles while studying abroad in the Galapagos Islands. Photo submitted.

Nearly 200 years after Darwin set sail for the Galapagos, IC students witnessed real-life examples of his theory of evolution for themselves.

Laurel Maley ’17, an environmental studies minor and one of the students who spent a semester in the Galapagos Islands, described some of the most striking examples of evolution she saw: Darwin's Finches and Galapagos Giant Tortoises.

The finches descended from one common ancestor species, but over time they evolved into numerous different species. Each island is home to a different species, depending on that island’s food sources. On one island where small seeds are the food source, finches small in size with small beaks survived, while on another island with larger seeds that are harder to break, finches with larger, stronger beaks were better able to survive. By visiting different islands, Maley was able to observe the different species and compare their sizes and beak shapes.

Similarly, the Galapagos Giant Tortoises descend from one species of giant tortoise, but each island has its own variation of the species depending on climate and the food that’s available. On islands with more vegetation, tortoises are larger and have dome-shaped shells, while on islands with drier climates, tortoises are much smaller and have saddleback shells. 

To round out her study abroad experience, Maley also snorkeled for the first time and swam with sea lions, sea turtles, and sharks. She additionally went on an island-hopping trip to see how the ecosystems differ and climbed a volcano in the process.

“I was amazed by everything every day. It was like a paradise,” she said.




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