Canada is a natural resource exporting nation that values its biodiversity, clean water and distinctive ecosystems. This vast nation is at a critical juncture with competing interests between rising societal pressure for environmental sustainability and natural resources development. As a result, natural resource management decisions by Canadian communities, Indigenous peoples, industries and regulators require timely and relevant information regarding risk and impacts of human activities, especially in the context of climate change.
The analysis of environmental DNA (eDNA)—genetic material shed from organisms into their environment—is highly promising as eDNA can provide non-destructive, rapid, cost-effective and accurate biodiversity information. For example, a single scoop of water from a lake can inform the presence of at-risk, invasive, pest, and culturally & economically important animal species. However, considerable variation in data quality and poor understanding of factors affecting eDNA detection have hindered adoption in regulatory policy and natural resource management decision-making.
End-Users (e.g., governments, First Nations, NGOs and industry) are all now calling for methods standardization and accessible eDNA resources to support ecological surveys for species-at-risk monitoring; invasive species management; and granting permits and permissions for energy, mining, forestry, manufacturing and infrastructure projects. The impact is far-reaching. Better monitoring tools could help detect live pinewood nematodes and improve wood treatment efficacy testing facilitating Canadian forest products trade (worth $33.2 billion in 2019), substantially reduce the cost of managing aquatic invasive species (e.g., $3.6 billion annually in Ontario alone) through early detection, and protect valuable ecosystems.
The iTrackDNA project will build end-user capacity through innovative, accessible, socially responsible genomics-based analytical eDNA tools for effective decision-making by: 1) supporting the creation of a targeted eDNA detection national standard; 2) building eDNA kits to detect 100 priority invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals in Canadian coastal and inland ecosystems; 3) applying 10 eRNA kits for determining animal biosurveillance, biosanitation and bioremediation effectiveness; 4) generating decision support software for modeling regional biodiversity changes integrating Indigenous Ecological Knowledge; 5) developing an eDNA training, certification and inter-lab validation framework for consultants, researchers, regulators and managers; and 6) producing a guidance document on eDNA-based methods integration into management, policy and regulations.
By 2025, eDNA will undoubtedly be a mainstream assessment tool as many countries are currently investing in eDNA technology. The iTrackDNA project is poised to help Canadians reach high environmental quality standards and position Canada as an international frontrunner on eDNA standards adoption, policy development and testing.