Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Opuntia cacti are a key species in the ecology of the Galapagos Islands, the pads forming a major food source for tortoises and land iguanas, and the fruits being eaten by iguanas, doves and mockingbirds. The flowers, fruits and seeds are eaten by cactus finches, which may also obtain water by pecking at the fleshy pads (3) (9). In return, these species help to disperse the seeds of the cactus, and also act as important pollinators of the flowers, particularly on islands lacking insect pollinators such as bees (3) (9) (11). Flowering of Opuntia echios has been reported to occur between November and February, with each plant producing a few flowers every day throughout the flowering season. The seeds take several months to mature, and the long flowering season means that the fruits ripen over a period of time rather than simultaneously (11). The species may also be able to reproduce vegetatively (3), an entirely new individual growing from a detached portion of the plant. It is thought that the Opuntia species of the Galapagos Islands are very long-lived, potentially reaching ages of 150 years or more (8).
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Description

The five varieties of Opuntia echios are quite variable in form, a phenomenon thought to result from adaptation to differing conditions on different islands (2) (3) (5) (6). The smallest, such as O. e. zacana, are shrubby and low-growing, never reaching more than a metre or two in height (2) (5) (7), while others, such as O. e. gigantea, grow into tall trees and are among the largest Opuntia species in the Galapagos (2) (3) (8). Opuntia echios usually has a well-developed trunk, which is spiny when young and later develops reddish, flaky bark (2) (3) (5). The more shrubby forms generally have softer spines, and tend to grow on islands where there are fewer browsing herbivores and lower competition with other plant species (3) (6) (9). Opuntia echios produces flat, fleshy pads, up to 45 centimetres long and 32 centimetres wide, covered in evenly spaced groups of 2 to 20 or more yellowish to brown spines. The spines, up to 12 centimetres in length, tend to be erect, stiff and sharp on young plants, and more bristly, almost hairlike, on mature individuals (2) (5). The pads of Opuntia echios produce large yellow flowers, up to ten centimetres across, which develop into the greenish “prickly pear” fruits which give the Opuntia cacti their common name. These roundish to oblong fruits may be over seven centimetres in length, and are covered in spines and short, barbed hairs, known as glochids (2) (3) (5) (9).
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Distribution

Range

Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, the five varieties of Opuntia echios occur on different islands. O. e. echios is found on Daphne Major, Santa Cruz, Baltra and Las Plazas Islands, O. e. barringtonensis is found on Santa Fé Island, and O. e. gigantea is found on Santa Cruz Island, in the vicinity of Academy Bay. O. e. inermis is known only from Volcán Sierra Negra, on Isabela Island, and O. e. zacana is found on Seymour Island, where it is the only Opuntia species on the island (2) (5) (7).
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Ecology

Habitat

Opuntia echios is commonly found in the arid zone, often growing in thin soil, sand or even bare lava, but also occurs at higher elevations in tropical dry forest (2) (7) (8) (10).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Opuntia echios

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Opuntia echios

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4). Varieties Opuntia echios gigantea, O. e. inermis and O. e. echios are classified as Endangered (EN) and O. e. zacana and O. e. barringtonensis are classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).
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Threats

In common with other Opuntia cacti on the Galapagos Islands, Opuntia echios is threatened by introduced plants, with which it competes for space, light and nutrients, and also introduced animals such as goats, donkeys, pigs and cattle. These non-native species often trample smaller Opuntia plants or eat into the trunks of older, less spiny individuals. If the cacti are knocked down and eaten, no vegetative reproduction can occur, and only the remaining larger plants are able to flower (9). The Galapagos Islands as a whole are also under increasing pressure from uncontrolled tourism, human population growth, farming and urbanisation (12) (13). The restricted ranges of many of the Opuntia echios varieties may make them particularly vulnerable to any threats.
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Management

Conservation

Opuntia echios receives some protection from international trade under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (4). However, the threats posed by introduced species and human activities need to be addressed if this cactus is to be adequately protected. The Charles Darwin Foundation is currently working in the Galapagos to research and survey all Opuntia populations, to help develop appropriate conservation actions for each species. These are likely to include the control of feral herbivores, as well as possible restoration projects (9)
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Wikipedia

Opuntia echios

Opuntia echios is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is endemic to the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) and is commonly known as the Galápagos prickly pear, but there are five other species of prickly pears that also are endemic to the archipelago (O. galapageia, O. helleri, O. insularis, O. megasperma and O. saxicola).

Opuntia echios var. zacana is a small variety

There are five varieties of Opuntia echios, each with a different appearance and distribution: Opuntia echios var. echios on the islands of Santa Cruz, Baltra, Daphne Major and South Plaza, Opuntia echios var. barringtonensis on Santa Fe, Opuntia echios var. gigantea near Academy Bay on Santa Cruz, Opuntia echios var. inermis on the Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela and Opuntia echios var. zacana on North Seymour.

References

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