There is an increasing need to assess and monitor the impact of human activities on biodiversity. The environmental consulting industry in BC has an estimated $2 billion annual revenue with approximately 11% of it from environmental assessments. Of these, approximately 10% ($22 million) is related to aquatic ecosystems, compared to $200 million in the USA.
Rapid and accurate assessment of the biota present in marine and freshwater habitats is a core activity required by resource managers, industry, and environmental consultants. Current field surveys are labour intensive, expensive, and subject to uncertainties, especially where species distribution is poorly understood. The environmental DNA (eDNA) approach to aquatic surveys allows for the assessment of species presence by examination of DNA in water samples. Although the eDNA approach is very promising, work is needed to refine methods and provide context for interpretation of the results before it can be used as standard practice.
This project brought together Stantec Consulting Ltd., the Province of British Columbia Ministry of Environment, BC Hydro, the University of Victoria, and Seastar Biotech to develop and study the power and limitations of eDNA technology. This collaboration aimed to inform how and when the eDNA approach can be used and applied in environmental assessments. The white sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, was used as the test species for a number of reasons, including:
The success of this project through the implementation of eDNA analysis created new possibilities for monitoring aquatic life, and reducing the costs associated with environmental assessment and monitoring. In addition, the positive results gained in this pilot study can lead to providing critical information on the distribution of white sturgeon in areas of special interest to BC for planning and conservation. This approach offers substantial cost savings (estimated at >50%) over traditional surveys, as well as opening new possibilities for monitoring aquatic life.