The Hitchhiker Wave: Non-native Small Terrestrial Vertebrates in the Galapagos

  • Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia
Part of the Social and Ecological Interactions in the Galapagos Islands book series (SESGI)


Humans have translocated thousands of species of flora, fauna and microorganisms to places they would never have reached on their own. Non-native species may have effects on biological communities, ecosystem functions and human populations. In island environments, the effects of spreading non-native species on native biodiversity can be severe and lead to native ecosystem transformation and even endemic species extinction. The Galapagos Islands are a region of particular interest and relevance to the issue of species introduction and invasiveness.

In this chapter, I analyse the current status of 25 non-native amphibians, reptiles and birds that have been reported in the Galapagos Islands. Six species have established self-sufficiently in Galapagos and may become invasive: Fowler’s snouted tree frog Scinax quinquefasciatus, common house gecko Hemidactylus frenatus, mourning gecko Lepidodactylus lugubris, dwarf gecko Gonatodes caudiscutatus, Peters’ leaf-toed gecko Phyllodactylus reissii and smooth-billed ani Crotophaga ani. Domestic fowl Gallus gallus holds feral populations, which may have self-sufficient populations, but evidence is unclear. I provide information on the distribution and natural history of non-native species of amphibians, reptiles and birds in Galapagos, including new data about the introduction history of S. quinquefasciatus; evidence on the establishment of H. frenatus on Isabela and San Cristobal islands; the first published record of a non-native snake in Galapagos—Lampropeltis micropholis; the first evidence of predation on squamate reptiles by G. gallus in Galapagos; and evidence of a probable major impact by C. ani due to extensive predation on the endemic Galapagos carpenter bee Xylocopa darwini. I comment on the invasiveness and impact potential of non-native species in Galapagos, identify vulnerable islands for the arrival of non-native species, identify potential hitchhiker that could arrive in the future and propose that it is important to rethink about how we understand, manage and prevent introductions of non-native species. The new wave of introduced species in Galapagos is formed by small hitchhikers, species that are easily overlooked, may travel in high numbers and are highly linked to human-made environments.


Amphibians Biological invasions Birds Hitchhiker species Invasive Islands Natural history Non-native Reptiles 



I am thankful to Gustavo Jimenez-Uzcátegui, Marco Altamirano, Tristan Schramer and Yatin Kalki for providing valuable information about the Galapagos non-native fauna and access to relevant collections; to Marylin Cruz, Arturo Izurieta Valery, Nuria Estrella and David Veintimilla for their kind and prompt response to preserve and study the specimen of Lampropeltis from Galapagos; to Zell Lundberg, Christina Mitchell, Luke Smith, Kevie Dowie and Sandy Espinosa for allowing me to use their photographs; to anonymous reviewers for their useful comments that improved earlier versions of this chapter; to Diego Quiroga, Gabriela Moreno, Cecibel Narváez and Ma. Angélica Moreano for all their help during my stay at Galapagos; and to the Galapagos extension of Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ for the logistical support during my field trips to Galapagos Islands in June 2005, June–July 2008 and June–August 2009. The following organisations and projects provided access to literature: King’s College London, Biblioteca Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ, Biblioteca Fundación Charles Darwin, Biodiversity Heritage Library (, the Internet Archive (, and Google Books (


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratorio de Zoología Terrestre & Museo de Zoología, Colegio de Ciencias Biológicas y AmbientalesUniversidad San Francisco de Quito USFQQuitoEcuador

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