The smooth-billed ani Crotophaga ani, native to most of South and Central America as well as parts of the USA, was introduced to Galápagos in the 1960s. This was reportedly done in the hope they would eat ticks off the cattle being farmed on the islands. Since then the population has spread across the archipelago and reached an estimated 250,000. It is thought to be having numerous negative impacts via mechanisms such as depredation of native species and spread of invasive plants. However, the evidence for this is largely anecdotal and research into this introduced species has been limited. In collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) I am investigating the impacts that smooth-billed anis are having in Galápagos and researching potential control or eradication methods. As part of this I have designed and tested a new trap for catching them and am planning a large-scale dietary analysis.
I often get asked how this relates to my Ph.D., the answer being that it doesn’t. I first visited Galápagos as a tourist after I finished my undergraduate degree. While travelling out there, I became interested in a species of bird that I frequently encountered. I spoke to local people about it and found out that it was introduced and thought to be impacting negatively on native wildlife. I also discovered that very little research had been done on it. Having recently graduated, I didn’t feel able to set up anything at the time, but I kept up my interest after I returned home and read what I could on the species.
After finishing my M.Sc. I worked for a while and managed to raise enough money to get back out to the islands. Once there, I spoke to the CDF and GNPD and managed to obtain their permission to start researching the species. I then went back to England and applied for a number of small grants, one of which agreed to cover the cost of my flights and accommodation. The CDF then offered to cover the equipment costs and the project was born. A few months later I was offered my Ph.D. but, not wanting to give up my Galápagos work, I decided to do both, a decision I have never regretted!