Project Description

In a rapidly changing world, regulators, scientists, and local communities face significant challenges in meeting their mandates and interests to protect aquatic ecosystems, predict future health of these ecosystems, and foster their wise use. Successful protection of aquatic ecosystems requires reliable and rapid detection of changes to these environments within the context of natural variability.  This will allow prediction of future trends so that managers can develop adaptive schemes to be able to maintain and enhance sustainability of ecosystems. 

This project will advance emerging and transformative technologies in biology and bioinformatics, such as environmental DNA (eDNA) and next generation sequencing (NGS), that enable the previously challenging study of aquatic life and their habitats. The DNA analysis of aquatic systems can be used to detect and identify the full range of biological diversity, including presence of rare and endangered species, in near real time, while reducing costs and the need for taxonomic expertise. These transformative technologies have potential to provide more rapid, comprehensive and objective assessments of ecosystem status of aquatic environments exposed to stressors in Canada.

This project is a Pillar 3 GWF project and therefore user needs are at the core of our research. Through existing and new relationships, we are working with diverse partners who are interested in advancing and improving biomonitoring of aquatic environments in Canada and their capacity to participate. We will align the research outcomes (improved methods, Standard Operating Procedures, eco-genomic libraries, toolkits, etc.) with the operational needs of these partners though a systematic review of existing biomonitoring and bio-assessment programs carried out by local, provincial and federal government agencies, industries and non-governmental organization (NGOs) with a history of aquatic biomonitoring.  We will also research and identity the opportunities and challenges in the underlying acts and regulations that support them including Canada’s Environmental Effects Monitoring Program (EEM) under the Fisheries Act.

Our research team is a strategic assemblage of national and international experts and emerging researchers that have the unique skills required to develop and validate these novel biomonitoring methodologies. The co-investigators have partnerships that will allow application of these emerging approaches to diverse environments across Canada, and globally. 

The first phase of the project (years 1-3) include studying three types of ecosystems representative of Canadian water resources of concern: large northern rivers/deltas; boreal lakes; and southern urbanizing watersheds. The research take place in well characterized environments at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), watersheds with existing monitoring sites and programs (e.g. Grand River), and sites of ongoing environmental assessment projects across the country (e.g. example? South Saskatchewan River Husky Oil spill??).

During the second phase (years 4-7), these emerging technologies will be applied to detect and predict changes in aquatic ecosystems across Canada, which would otherwise be difficult and labor- and resource-intensive to accomplish by use of traditional biomonitoring approaches.  These techniques will be operationalized to support our long-term goal to broadly apply these techniques to assess aquatic resources in support of bio-assessment monitoring programs and priorities nationally including in northern watersheds (e.g. NWT), Laurentian Great Lakes and tributaries, urban watersheds and alpine lakes and rivers.