Fresh water is one of British Columbia’s most valuable natural resources and is directly and indirectly tied to the health and wellbeing of British Columbians in immeasurable ways. As pressures on this resource intensify, it is vital to monitor changes in freshwater ecosystems to inform environmental assessments and sound decision-making by government managers. This project leverages recent genomics advances in environmental DNA (eDNA) methods to deliver essential baseline tools for managing and conserving freshwater fish in BC.
All organisms shed DNA into their environment, for example, by sloughed skin, hair, mucous and feces. It is now possible to collect eDNA directly from a water sample. Using this sample, genetic analyses can detect which aquatic species live there by matching DNA sequences from the environmental sample with known reference DNA sequence data housed in a validated ‘library’. To enable eDNA monitoring in BC’s freshwater ecosystems, the research team has created a new, validated reference DNA database called NAMERS (Novel Applied eDNA Metabarcoding Reference Sequences) for all known freshwater fish species in BC that is currently 92% complete. The information in this database is fully traceable to ensure it can withstand legal scrutiny. Accordinly, this database provides a foundational resource for regulatory and enforcement purposes.
The NAMERS database is readily accessible via a user-friendly online portal (https://namers.ca) designed for use by eDNA specialists and non-specialists alike. Potential users include scientists, other end-users (e.g. government managers), First Nations communities and organizations, and environmental stewards (e.g. citizen scientists). The website features easily customized data options to meet the unique needs of different data end-users and individual species pages that connect to external sites with additional information on each fish species. The team also developed new eDNA tools to monitor freshwater fish species in BC protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and field-validated the capacity of these tools to detect these species using environmental water samples.
These new tools significantly elevate our ability to monitor the status and distributions of at-risk fish species. This project has made a vital contribution towards improving the accessibility and trustworthiness of eDNA monitoring and its use for addressing real-world problems. The database and new eDNA tools will inform positive conservation action and generate improved management outcomes in BC’s freshwater ecosystems at large.