New community based freshwater monitoring launches in Canada

Ottawa – A new national community-based freshwater monitoring program using environmental DNA technology is being launched to help reverse the decline of freshwater wildlife in Canada.

Working with partners, WWF-Canada is spearheading the initiative to improve watershed management and wildlife protection by using local volunteers to supply credible and timely information for data-deficient watersheds.

The program addresses recent revelations in the Watershed Reports and Living Planet Report Canada, which found that data deficiency on freshwater ecosystems is preventing evidence-based freshwater management.

“We need more information to better understand how to reverse the decline of wildlife across Canada,” says WWF-Canada president and CEO David Miller. “WWF-Canada is bringing partners together to collect missing data in rivers and lakes that will provide a more complete picture of where we need take action to ensure healthy freshwater ecosystems that support wildlife and human communities too.”

WWF-Canada is working with Living Lakes Canada and researchers at the University of Guelph, along with scientific and technical support from Environment and Climate Change Canada, to launch the program in Ottawa and B.C.’s Sunshine Coast this fall before expanding in spring of 2018 to other data-deficient watersheds.

Why This Data is Necessary

Recent research has found that all of Canada’s watersheds are under stress from human activities, but data deficiency on key indicators — such as benthic invertebrates, which are strong indicators of water quality — prevents us from knowing the impacts on freshwater health in 15 of 25 watersheds. Even worse, freshwater ecosystems are among the least well studied in Canada, yet are expected (along with the Arctic overall) to be hit hardest by climate change.

Without accurate data, governments and communities are not able to make evidence-based decisions leading to effective freshwater management.

Why Community Based Monitoring?

Canada’s geographical diversity and low density makes comprehensive monitoring networks a challenge to maintain, and community-based monitoring programs are far more nimble, with the potential for more comprehensive reach.

The national initiative will utilize environmental DNA (eDNA) technology, which compares sample genetic material collected in the water to a global DNA barcode library to identify species — a highly accurate and cost-effective way to identify benthic invertebrates, such as flies, beetles and snails.

“We are very excited at the prospects of this eDNA development for our water quality monitoring,” says Kat Hartwig, executive director of Living Lakes Canada. “It means that our sample results will be more accurate and less expensive to process and analyze, which means that it will be more user friendly and accessible for community-based water-monitoring groups and volunteers. This will be a significant step forward to establish a collective understanding of water health our precious and magnificent Canadian watersheds.”

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