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. About 10% is related to aquatic ecosystems. 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, further work is needed to refine methods and provide context for interpretation of the results before it can be used as standard practice.
This project will bring together Stantec Consulting Ltd., the Province of BC, BC Hydro and the University of Victoria, to develop and study the power and limitations of eDNA technology. This collaboration will inform how and when the eDNA approach can be used and applied in environmental assessments. The White Sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, will be used as the test species for a number of reasons: it’s an iconic species found in many of the larger rivers of BC; its presence and abundance in peripheral areas of its range are poorly understood; and most populations are in decline and threatened with extirpation.
The success of this project through the implementation of eDNA analysis has the potential to both create new possibilities for monitoring aquatic life and reduce the costs associated with environmental assessment and monitoring. In addition, the results gained can provide critical information on the distribution of White Sturgeon in areas of special interest to BC Hydro and the Ministry of Environment to facilitate planning and conservation.