Genomics is a common tool to study the DNA of model organisms and livestock, but it can also be used to protect wildlife, offering great potential for monitoring genetic diversity, identifying populations at risk and managing these populations.
The conservation of caribou is a particular concern in Québec, where some populations are declining rapidly. For example, the George-River herd has declined from more than 800,000 animals in the early 1990s to just 8,900 in 2016, a drop of around 99 percent! The ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP, Québec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks) has put together several action plans to protect caribou populations, and is looking forward to integrate genomics. The inclusion of genome-wide descriptive metrics will allow better herd management decisions and more efficient protection actions. To do so, MFFP will work with the research team, directed by Claude Robert and Steeve Côté from Université Laval, to develop a much-needed genomic tool.
The tool will consist of a SNP (single-nucleotide polymorphism) chip that will allow identifying specific herds based on a simple tissue sample, together with a Web portal to host a registry of caribou genotypes and a data analysis pipeline to support caribou management in Québec. The tool will assist MFFP’s wildlife protection officers and biologists in carrying out their mandate to protect and manage the endangered populations of that species and its habitat in a manner consistent with sustainable development and supported by up-to-date knowledge. Caribou is an iconic species not only in Québec, but also in Canada where its sustainability is essential for the stability of the tundra ecosystems and for the food security and economy of Northern communities.