Monitoring river health in Indigenous communities

Under a multi-year environmental DNA metabarcoding project, researchers are identifying organisms to gauge the health status of waterways in little-studied parts of the country, including areas where Indigenous peoples have lived for generations.

The STREAM (Sequencing the Rivers for Environmental Assessment and Monitoring) project involves citizen scientists and dozens of members of Indigenous communities in collecting samples for data to monitor freshwater health.

“These communities are well aware of the potential issues affecting their environment and they want timely and comprehensive access to biodiversity information, especially for freshwater biomonitoring. We can provide that using cutting-edge metabarcoding techniques developed at U of G,” says project lead Prof. Mehrdad Hajibabaei, Department of Integrative Biology, and a member of the University’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics.

Metabarcoding technology developed by his lab allows scientists to analyze DNA and identify numerous organisms at once.

STREAM project coordinator Chloe Robinson
STREAM project coordinator Chloe Robinson

“We can turn around results to a community group within two months using metabarcoding,” which is several times faster than methods that use microscopes to analyze single organisms, says Chloe Robinson, a post-doctoral researcher who is also STREAM’s project coordinator.

Many of Canada’s important but little-researched waterways are in lands where Indigenous peoples have lived for generations, Hajibabaei says.

“We have partnered with Indigenous communities and seek their perspective to understand which sites are most important. So these partnerships have been invaluable to helping us study the health of freshwater ecosystems.”

“Without these groups, it would be impossible to access remote sites to do this research. We hope to create new partnerships with more Indigenous communities so we can broaden this research.”

Data from the catalogued samples are shared with other STREAM project partners, including World Wildlife Fund-Canada, Living Lakes Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

For more information, please go to stream-dna.com.