Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Galapagos at the Linnean Society



Next week I have the privilege of speaking in the meeting room of the Linnean Society of London in Burlington House, Piccadilly. It is, of course, the same place in which the papers on natural selection by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace were read out in May 1858.

The day-long event is entitled The Galapagos Archipelago: A living laboratory and has been organised by Sandy Knapp, a botanist at the Natural History Museum, and Sarah Darwin and it’s a privilege to be included as one of the eight “highly respected speakers”.

I’ll be talking about tortoises and the title for my presentation is “The Galapagos tortoise: an evolutionary journey”. This is going to touch on several of things: there’ll be a dose of Galapagos history (in which early visitors came, saw and ate tortoise); I’ll cover the early tortoise conservation successes from the 1960s onwards; the very exciting genetic research that has really improved what we know about these creatures; and of course the very important flagship role they play. Lonesome George will probably get a mention.

It will be very nice to hear the other talks (see here for the full programme) and in particular to meet several people. I have not met Danish botanist Ole Hamann, but interviewed him for my book on Lonesome George and he very kindly let me use some of his photographs. He happened to turn up on George’s island Pinta just after the tortoise was discovered in 1972 and he took some great photos of him just before he (George) got taken off to Santa Cruz.

Paquita Hoeck is also speaking. She is doing some great genetic work on the Floreana Mockingbird, which has required extracting DNA from the individual bird that Darwin shot on the island 180-odd years ago. Her father Hendrik Hoeck is a former director of the Charles Darwin Foundation and Paquita, now at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, spent her early years in Galapagos.

So whilst I crack on with my panda book, I am also writing my talk for the Linnean Society meeting, giving me the weekend to get it slick.

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