Adrian Marchetti Examines Marine Biodiversity in the Galápagos
UNC Center For Galapagos Studies
Erika Neave '19 (MSc), Nataly Guevara, professor Adrian Marchetti, and Lauren Goodman '20 (MSc), left to right, on Isla Rábida during a 2018 research expedition. In the background is the M/V Sierra Negra operated by the Galápagos Park National Service, the vessel that the group conducted research on. (Photo from Adrian Marchetti)
The Galápagos Islands are remote and so ecologically unique that vast species of wildlife, including microorganisms, coexist within a range of diversity that is truly extraordinary for the islands’ scope. This, said Adrian Marchetti, associate professor of marine sciences and a researcher at the Galápagos Science Center, is what makes it the perfect place to observe, explore and discover.
“Healthy populations and ecosystems require healthy oceans,” he said.
From an oceanographic perspective, the Galápagos Islands are the most intriguing environment you can get. The convergence of major ocean currents creates a biodiversity hotspot with columns of both warm and cold water that contribute to a variety of organisms within an incredibly small spatial scale.
In other words, the data on ocean composition that can be gathered in the Galápagos Islands in mere days could not be found if you were traveling other parts of the world’s oceans for weeks.
In 2014, the start of an El Niño cycle (which peaked in the fall of 2015) brought unusually warm water to the region around the same time Marchetti and colleagues from UNC-Chapel Hill and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito started conducting research cruises to observe how the waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands were being impacted by such events. Since then, he and 12 scientists along with six crew members have spent two weeks each year on a vessel operated by the Galápagos National Park. The team travels through the Galápagos Marine Reserve, collecting water samples from different sites and varying depths to analyze the plankton community.
Then, they try to make sense of their findings and what this says about the planet on which we live.
“The way we collect samples on the boat is fairly primitive given these are not oceanographic research vessels, but we make it work,” shared Marchetti. “Then we use cutting-edge methods at the Galápagos Science Center, such as sequencing of DNA along with other genomic methods, to analyze our findings and chart the changes we see. We bring that data home to UNC for our students to help us evaluate what this means, not only for the Galápagos, but the world.”
What Marchetti makes clear is that he and other researchers at the GSC are in it for the long run. Monitoring the ecosystem in the Galápagos to truly understand how the climate is changing takes time.
“In the Galápagos, you have this rare opportunity to study so many different things without traveling too far,” he said. “These El Niño cycles in the Galápagos are like windows into what we can envision our oceans might be like in the future. The cycles of warming inform us how the oceans are shifting, and that is something that is happening all over the planet.”
January 23, 2023