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Identification of Genetically Important Individuals of the Rediscovered Floreana Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis elephantopus) Provide Founders for Species Restoration Program
Species are being lost at an unprecedented rate due to human-driven environmental changes. The cases in which species declared extinct can be revived are rare. However, here we report that a remote volcano in the Galapagos Islands hosts many giant tortoises with high ancestry from a species previously declared as extinct: Chelonoidis elephantopus or the Floreana tortoise. Of 150 individuals with distinctive morphology sampled from the volcano, genetic analyses revealed that 65 had C. elephantopus ancestry and thirty-two were translocated from the volcano's slopes to a captive breeding center. A genetically informed captive breeding program now being initiated will, over the next decades, return C. elephantopus tortoises to Floreana Island to serve as engineers of the island's ecosystems. Ironically, it was the haphazard translocations by mariners killing tortoises for food centuries ago that created the unique opportunity to revive this "lost" species today.