A study has shown that the giant tortoises of the Galapagos, an emblematic species of the Ecuadorian archipelago, have resistance to antibiotics associated with human activities, the Charles Darwin Foundation reported on Monday.

The research was developed by scientists from the Foundation, the Saint Louis Zoo, the Animal Health Research Center (INIA-CISA), the Complutense University and the European University of Madrid, in conjunction with the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park (DPNG ) and will be published in its next September volume by Environmental Pollution magazine.

The results showed that the turtles that share the habitat with human settlements (agricultural, urban and tourist areas), present a greater quantity of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, while those that live in remote areas and without interaction with man, such as the Alcedo volcano on Isabela Island, offer less resistance.

The study was based on fecal samples from 270 giant tortoises in Santa Cruz and Alcedo.

The analyzes consisted of searching for a total of 21 genes that encode resistance to eight different classes of antibiotics, commonly used in human and veterinary medicine, as well as growth promoters in farm animals.

“Resistance to antibiotics is spreading throughout the world, causing an invisible pandemic that compromises the health and treatment of human and animal diseases,” said the first author of the work, Ainoa Nieto, principal investigator of the Charles Darwin Foundation. and the Saint Louis Zoo Institute of Conservation Medicine (ICM).

This research is part of the work carried out around the world to better understand the origins, transmission and consequences associated with the presence of these “super bacteria”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the use of antibiotics and, consequently, the appearance of resistant bacteria throughout the world,” Nieto underlines.

She also indicates the author that the close coexistence between animals and human beings creates the “perfect setting for resistant bacteria to come into contact with wild species and contaminate their habitat, perpetuating the resistance transmission cycle.”

Other studies by the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Program (PEMTG), under which this work was framed, showed that giant tortoises are key species for the ecosystems of the archipelago, located about a thousand kilometers from the Ecuadorian continental coasts.

These species are considered ‘engineers’ and ‘gardeners’ of Galapagos, due to their role in the dispersal of seeds and the modification of the ecosystems where they are distributed.

Increased tourism activities, habitat fragmentation, introduced species, and climate change are just a few of the many threats that Galapagos tortoises face today.

For Sharon Deem, director of the ICM, “it is essential to continue with studies of this caliber in emblematic species such as giant tortoises to better understand how these resistant bacteria spread and seek solutions to a global crisis that threatens the health of people and animals.”

However, the data produced by this study suggest that the resistance values ​​found are still low in relation to other investigations carried out in large cities.

Therefore, scientists warn that even in Galapagos the situation could be reversible if the authorities and sectors involved adopt measures aimed at regulating and reducing the use of antibiotics in the Ecuadorian archipelago.