Biomonitoring 2.0 - South Slave

DNA barcoding -- the application of genomic markers to uniquely identify living organisms -- is revolutionizing the field of biodiversity assessment.  It has the potential to facilitate rapid assessments, yielding data of national significance, to a high scientific standard not previously possible without substantial training and specific knowledge.

Over the past four years, Environment Canada scientists have been working closely with scientists from the University of Guelph to develop a new approach to study how changes in the pattern of living organisms in the biosphere can be used to diagnose causes of environmental change.  DNA from environmental samples (soil, water, benthos and air) is amplified and sequenced, and the resulting sequences compared against a global library of pre-identified material.  This permits rapid and accurate analysis of all taxa present within a sample, across all major groups of life (bacteria, fungi, protists, plants, invertebrates, vertebrates).

Aurora Research Institute has partnered in this project to help support technology transfer to local communities.  We feel that this research has great relevance for remote communities in Canada's north, where there is a need to build capacity in environmental monitoring by local people.  Delivering DNA-based biomonitoring tools to local communities is empowering, not only in that it improves the ability of citizen scientists to monitor their own backyard, but also in that it can provide a window into the local environment that is much more broadly-based in terms of the types of organisms being monitored.  We will be supporting sampling in the communities to develop baseline data, and work on capacity building within communities to support development of long-term community monitoring programs.

Researchers collect insects for sampling

Another aspect of this research will be to study local community perceptions of this new technology.  An MSc student is being brought on to the project to solicit input from community organizations and agencies to determine how it may be used to complement traditional knowledge and empower volunteer monitoring networks to deliver world-class science to monitor their local ecosystems.

For more information, contact Dr. Donald Baird - Research Scientist, Environment Canada & Research Professor, Canadian Rivers Institute (djbaird@unb.ca) or Sarah Rosolen, Manager South Slave Research Centre (srosolen@auroracollege.nt.ca).