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Galápagos Islands Program Engages Students in History and Evolution

This summer, Jim Krupa, UK biology professor, led a course on the evolutionary ecology of the Galápagos archipelago.

“The life on the islands is almost otherworldly,” Krupa said. “The students are absolutely shocked and amazed when they arrive. It’s incredible to see their reactions.”

The Galápagos Islands host some of the rarest life forms on Earth and hold a deep historical connection to the study of evolution. In 1835, Charles Darwin visited Galápagos, and his findings eventually led him to write “On the Origin of Species,” a key text in the founding of evolutionary theory. 

Krupa has been fascinated by the Galápagos Islands since completing his doctoral work. His adviser, Charles Carpenter of the University of Oklahoma, was a trailblazing researcher on animal behavior of Galápagos creatures and encouraged Krupa to pursue research on the islands. 

Many of the world’s most unusual plants and animals call the Galápagos Islands home. Students observed the Galápagos giant tortoise, which can weigh more than 500 pounds, and the Galápagos marine iguana, which can grow to almost 6 feet in length.

In the Galápagos Islands, students spent their time island-hopping and studying the plants and animals, keeping hand-written field notebooks along the way, much like Darwin. Krupa has been keeping field notebooks on his research for 45 years.

“It encourages the students, and me, to always be engaged, always be thinking,” Krupa said.