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Advancing Environmental Impact Assessments

This work will enable future bio-surveillance programs to employ comprehensive impact assessments. The research team is exploiting the capabilities of modern DNA sequencing technology to develop new workflows that greatly reduce the costs for bio-surveillance projects and will employ this study as a test bed for these protocols.


Principal investigator: Paul Hebert
Other investigators: Dirk Steinke, Jeremy deWaard, Evgeny ZakharovSujeevan Ratnasingham

What challenge does "Advancing Environmental Impact Assessments" address?

The Canadian economy is heavily reliant on natural resources. Our aquatic environments have important value for fisheries, industrial production, recreation, and transportation, while our land base supports agriculture, forestry, mining and fossil fuel extraction. Because Canada occupies 7% of the planet’s land surface, while also possessing the longest coastline and the largest number of freshwater habitats of any nation, efforts to evaluate the impacts of environmental change on its biodiversity confront a serious challenge. How can biodiversity shifts be assessed on such a large scale?

How will this research address the challenge?

In collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the research team deployed Malaise traps in 55 Provincial Parks and Reserves in the summer of 2014. Researchers analyzed approximately 1 million specimens to build a heavily parameterized reference library of DNA barcodes for the insect fauna of Ontario. These samples have been sorted to extract flower-visiting insects in order to increase our knowledge of wild pollinators that occur in Ontario. Further sampling will extend the project to assess soil invertebrate communities in the same environments.

Changing a Malaise sample trap at Arkell Research Station.

Changing a Malaise sample trap at Arkell Research Station.

What impact will the project have on agriculture?

The capacity of DNA barcoding to improve the accuracy, scope and speed of biodiversity surveys is already clear. Pilot studies have confirmed its value in assessing biodiversity in protected areas and in validating site remediation programs. This project establishes protected areas in Ontario as a model system, but subsequent work will see the application of these methodologies at a national and global scale.

Bulk processing samples collected from Malaise traps.

Bulk processing samples collected from Malaise traps.

Other information

Partners: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (Provincial Parks).

Collaborators and students: Nigel Raine, Ellen Richard (MSc student), Marie-Eugenie Maggia (PhD Student).

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