Historical Ecology of the Galápagos Islands

Historical Ecology of the Galápagos Islands (HEGI) was initiated in 2012 as an international and multidisciplinary project to examine the history, nature, and extent of ecological change and landscape alteration associated with human contact throughout the archipelago. The transformation of island landscapes into novel habitats with substitution ecologies raises important issues about public and scientific perceptions of nature and the escalating role of tourism in biological conservation, preservation, and restoration in a protected bioreserve. HEGI activities are undertaken within a framework of Historical Ecology, and incorporate three interconnected perspectives: 1. globalization and the increasing integration of the islands into an expanding network of human interests from different continents and hemispheres since their discovery by Europeans shortly after the Columbian invasion; 2. anthropogenic transformation of distinctive island habitats into novel ecosystems supporting substitution ecologies, whose legacies survive into the present; and, 3. changing popular and scientific perceptions of nature and tourism’s role in biological conservation, preservation, and restoration within the context of an internationally iconic nature park.

Historical Ecology

Humans and the biospheres they inhabit are interconnected in an intimate and historically contingent dialogue. Through their cultural expertise, humans regularly occupy keystone roles within the landscapes they assemble wherever they reside. Historic circumstances involving the social, economic, political, and religious contexts within which this relationship develops often govern the nature and extent to which landscapes are transformed. Investigations of the archaeological record can be productively combined with existing documentary sources through the perspective of Historical Ecology to explore issues surrounding the origin, temporal and spatial development, and historic context of enduring humanized landscapes. The Galápagos Islands can provide us with an effective illustration of an initial peopling event owing to their isolation and relatively recent colonization, and present a rare glimpse of humans encountering uninhabited environments and entering into a transformative relationship that initiated the creation of humanized landscapes.

HEGI Partners

It was possible to undertake the HEGI project with funding from the Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC). A generous SSHRCC Partnership Development Grant (890-2013-0013) enabled us to partner the University of Victoria (UVIC) with USFQ, Simon Fraser University (SFU), GAIAS, the Galápagos Science Center (GSC), and the Junta Parroquial, Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado Parroquial El Progreso. Through authorization from the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) and permission by the Parque Nacional Galápagos (PNG) we undertook a total of six seasons of investigation and analysis between 2012 and 2018. We extend our heartfelt gratitude toward the many colleagues in our partnership for their shared contributions in bringing this project to fruition. Its results can be further accessed in: Peter W. Stahl, Fernando J. Astudillo, Ross W. Jamieson, Diego Quiroga, and Florencio Delgado (2020) Historical Ecology and Archaeology in the Galápagos Islands: A Legacy of Human Occupation. University of Florida, Gainesville.