Galapagos giant tortoises, sometimes called Gardeners of the Galapagos, are creatures of habit. In the cool dry season, the highlands of the volcano slopes are engulfed in cloud which allows the vegetation to grow despite the lack of rain. On the lower slopes, however, there is no thick fog layer, and vegetation is not available year round. Adult tortoises thus spend the dry season in the higher regions, and trek back to the lower, relatively warmer zones where there is abundant, nutritious vegetation when the rainy season begins.
The tortoises often take the same migration routes over many years in order to find optimal food quality and temperatures. The timing of this migration is essential for keeping their energy levels high, and climate change could disrupt a tortoise’s ability to migrate at the right time.
In the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology, researchers use GPS to track the timing and patterns of tortoise migration over multiple years.
“We had three main goals in the study,” says Guillaume Bastille-Rousseau, lead author of the paper. “One was determining if tortoises adjust their timing of migration to current environmental conditions. Two, if so, what clues do they use to adjust the timing, and, three, what are the energetic consequences of migration mis-timing for tortoises?”
The researchers expected the migrations to be timed with current food and temperature conditions because many other migratory species operate that way. Bastille-Rousseau says “many animals, such as ungulates, can track current environmental conditions and migrate accordingly – what researchers sometime refer to as surfing the green-wave.”