The Galapagos archipelago is famous for inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. While the islands are most well-known for their unique flora and fauna, this isolated island chain in the Pacific is also interesting from other points of view. The Galapagos Islands are located on a volcanic hotspot and lava outcrops continue to form the foundation of new islands. Over millennia, continental drift moves the islands further and further away from their place of origin.

This gives scientists the exciting opportunity to study the formation and development of Galapagos soils over millions of years. The youngest land surfaces date from a few years to decades old and are barely covered with soil, while the oldest islands have had over 2 million years to turn the volcanic rocks into fertile soils.

The islands are also within the influence of the Humboldt Current and the Southeast Passage. On the higher islands, this creates a pronounced change in climate with elevation, ranging from arid areas with the typical cactus forests on the coast to moss-covered cloud forests in the highlands. This moisture gradient results in the formation of different soils over a limited area.

A team of scientists from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, in cooperation with the Galapagos National Park, are researching the soils of the islands. The results are exciting because it is possible to predict how the soils will develop in the future under changing climactic conditions. Current problems, such as the use of glyphosate by the National Park Administration for the control of invasive plants and its impact on soil and water quality, are being investigated for the first time.

The film "Evolution of Soils in the Galapagos Islands" follows the researchers and students as they carry out their scientific work on the four inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana. The film is developed, shot and edited by the students and scientists. The film premiere is scheduled for June 2019.

Soil Genesis & Soil Resources - the research topics

1. age sequence (a few hundred years to > 2,000,000 years)
Investigation of process rates, e.g. Weathering, mineral formation, build-up and stabilization of soil organic matter 

2. Soil formation on different rocks
chemical composition, texture / porosity

3. Soil formation along climatic gradients (arid to humid)
Weathering, mineral regeneration, building and stabilization of soil organic matter, soil microbiology, etc.

4. Effects of agricultural use
soil organic matter, soil microbiology, contamination

5. Control of invasive plants
soil organic matter, soil microbiology, contamination

6. Watering - 130 microreservoires on the 4 inhabited islands
Water quality, soil water balance, tendency to sludge

Project team:

Martin Gerzabek, Franz Zehetner, Sebastian Postl, Katharina Maria Keiblinger,
I Nyoman Candra, Pei-Hao Chen, Maria Rechberger, Greta Schmidt, Claudia Puck,
Sebastian Ioan Socianu, Tamara Courtney Dinter, Matthias Strahlhofer

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