November 04, 2020
Vancouver, Canada — Fresh water is unequivocally one of British Columbia (BC)’s most valuable natural resources and is directly and indirectly tied to the health and wellbeing of British Columbians in immeasurable ways. Monitoring changes in freshwater ecosystems is vital to inform sound decision making by government managers as pressures on this resource intensify.
A relatively simple way to measure these changes is by sequencing environmental DNA (‘eDNA’), collected directly from a water sample, to determine which species live in that water body. All organisms shed DNA into their environment; for example, through sloughed skin, hair, mucous, and faeces, making eDNA an ideal way to identify the species that exist in a given area.
Genome BC is funding Dr. Cathryn Abbott, a Research Scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to develop a reference encyclopedia, or DNA library, for all known freshwater fish species in BC, both native and invasive. This will enable scientists to confidently use eDNA results to develop an accurate species list for the sampled area. She will be working closely with Dr. Kristen Westfall, also from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Their work will ensure full traceability of data such that this reference library will become a trusted foundational resource that government managers can rely on for regulatory and enforcement purposes.
“Generating highest quality reference data requires a significant investment, and yet this will pay great dividends in the long run”, says Dr. Abbott. “These data are an essential backbone for leveraging the promise of eDNA methods for monitoring aquatic environments. This will help provide regulators and conservation managers the tools they need to make sound, evidence- based decisions, which is vital for achieving desired outcomes”.
The team will also use eDNA sampling and the new DNA library to survey fish in BC’s interior that are protected under the federal Species at Risk Act, to map their distributions and detect invasive species that can pose threats to native fish. This highly efficient monitoring capability will address the needs of a wide range of end-users within economic and environmental sectors in BC reliant on freshwater resources, including Pacific salmon fisheries and recreational fishing.
“This work is significant for BC’s social and economic stability,” said Dr. Federica Di Palma, Chief Scientific Officer and VP Sectors at Genome BC. “Genome BC’s investment will support improved protection of sensitive spawning habitats, a reduction in fishery closures due to invasive species occurrences, and improved management outcomes related to the health of BC’s freshwater ecosystems generally.”
Funded through Genome BC’s Sector Innovation Program (SIP), the outcomes of this project will particularly benefit First Nations communities that rely on wild salmon both culturally and as a food resource, and will ultimately bring social benefit to every British Columbian by ensuring quality of life through economic and environmental prosperity. Genome BC’s SIP is specifically targeted for bringing industry and academia together to find solutions for sector challenges.
Contact: Jennifer Boon Communincations Manager, Sectors