Background: The Galápagos archipelago is known worldwide for its contributions to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and the islands continue to support studies in evolutionary biology. Yet despite the strong association of Galápagos with evolutionary biology, it is unknown if tourists - approaching 200,000 individuals annually - come to Galápagos with a specific interest in learning about evolution. Prior work has established that Galápagos National Park guides are proud of the association between the islands and evolution, yet on average do not do well on a test of basic evolutionary concepts. The work described herein is an attempt to clarify, via in-person surveys on tourists during the summer of 2016, whether tourists are motivated to visit Galápagos by an interest in evolution. Results: Of the 109 tourists who answered the question "How interested were you in this trip to Galápagos?" all but one indicated that they were interested or extremely interested in their trip. Only two mentioned a specific interest in learning about evolution or the relationship between the islands and the history of evolutionary thought. For most people, seeing animals - in general or specifically identified animals such as the giant tortoises - was the primary motivation for coming to Galápagos. Unusual animals, snorkeling, and visiting a remote location all averaged above 4.0 on a 5.0-point scale, indicating that these aspects of the archipelago are very-to-extremely appealing to tourists. When average responses for 22 items were ranked from most to least appealing, evolution-related items came in 14th, 17th, 18th, and 20th. However, consequences of evolutionary processes, such as unusual animals and biodiversity, rank higher than either of the four evolution-specific items. Conclusions: Given tourists' primary interest in the islands' endemic wildlife, we find little reason for concern over the guides' lack of specific evolution-related content knowledge. More critical to both guides and tourists are the impacts of population growth and increased tourism to the islands. Stakeholders can best serve the interests of the growing tourist population and the vigor of the Galápagos economy via conservation efforts - by developing and supporting programs that mediate the concerns raised by ecologists, protecting the islands' fragile habitat, and regulating commercial land use. In addition, a better understanding of tourists' motivations may provide opportunities to explore connecting evolutionary concepts to visitor interests.
- Charles Darwin
- Galápagos islands