NIU Today | Research trip to the Galápagos results in discovery, GMA interview

A cruise in the Galápagos Islands is an experience in itself.

Throw in an appearance on Good Morning America, along with a scientific discovery.

Put simply, “It was a really unique opportunity,” said Jennifer Koop, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Assistant Professor Jennifer Koop from the Department of Biological Sciences.

Joined by graduate student Carly Crow, Dr. Buy spent two weeks in February studying the invasion pathway of a parasitic nest fly – the avian vampire fly—affecting Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands.

As a National Geographic explorer—a title bestowed upon those who receive funding and support from the National Geographic Society—Dr. Buy earned a grant for her and Crow to travel aboard an expedition cruise offered through National Geographic’s partnership with Lindblad Expeditions.

She, Crow and a handful of collaborating scientists joined tourists on the ship in an area considered one of the world’s most unique island ecosystems.

Charles Darwin first came to the Galápagos in 1835, and his observations of wildlife on the archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean inspired his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Today, the Galapagos are basically a living laboratory.

dr. Buy has visited the area about a half-dozen times in her decade-long study of invasive parasites and plans to return again next year. She’s among the first to research the impact of the avian vampire fly on Darwin’s finches.

Her latest visit resulted in a brief interview as part of a Good Morning America segment about the beauty and effects of climate change in the Galápagos.

“It was an amazing opportunity to share a little bit about what I do and where I do my research with a national audience,” Dr. buy said.

As part of the interview, she emphasized the significance of Darwin’s finches and the major role they played in the development of Darwin’s theory.

“Darwin’s finches are only found on the Galápagos,” she said during the Good Morning America interview. “Climate change is among the biggest threats to these species, along with things like habitat destruction and invasive species, and all three of those sort of work together in a synergistic way and against the species that are here.”

Graduate student Carly Crow.

Joined by Crow, Dr. Koop’s most recent research trip involved a study of how tourists potentially are moving invasive species from island to island in the Galápagos. The pair specifically sought to trap insects on the cruise ship.

“The National Geographic Endeavor ii does everything possible to restrict insects from traveling from island to island,” Dr. buy. “Still, we find insects on board.”

They specifically were on the lookout for the avian vampire fly. The fly larvae live in the nests of Darwin’s finches and feed on the vulnerable chicks.

the last time dr. Buy attempted to trap the flies during a similar research experience in the Galápagos in 2019, she came up short. That, in a sense, was a good thing.

This time around, Crow—working toward her master’s degree in biology—actually discovered a female avian vampire fly in a trap on the ship.

“It’s a mixed bag of emotions. My first reaction was, ‘Oh no.’ It’s what we don’t want to see,” she said. “That was immediately followed by, ‘Wow, this is going to be a great paper.’”

The discovery shows that the flies can reach the islands and Darwin’s finches from the cruise ships.

“I hope to show with my publication whether or not the avian vampire fly can use cruise boats to move between the islands” said Crow, who spent 10 days in the Galápagos. She was able to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, a long-standing collaborative group with Dr. buy.

Fascinated with the study of parasites and diseases, Crow said she feels fortunate to have been able to join Dr. Koop’s research team.

“She’s amazing, very understanding and an excellent listener, and she’s also not afraid to provide critical feedback, but she does it in a way that’s not crushing,” she said. “You walk away feeling, ‘I can do this.’”

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