Our rivers are important habitats that support a wide variety of wildlife, including diverse communities of fish. Unfortunately, human activities have degraded river habitats in many parts of the world, causing fish populations to have dwindled substantially.
Measuring these changes on a broad scale is important if we are to respond appropriately and improve the health of our rivers, but it is also extremely difficult since it requires reliable data on fish communities from many river systems. Such data is time consuming and expensive to obtain using conventional fish survey methods such as netting or electrofishing.
This project aims to establish a monitoring system of river fish communities based on a novel approach, environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis, which is currently revolutionising aquatic biodiversity monitoring. This approach is based on the fact that fish and other animals shed DNA into the water, and this can be captured by passing the water through a fine filter. The filter is then sent to specialist laboratories that isolate the captured DNA and analyse it to determine which species were present in the area at the time of sampling.
In the first instance (during 2019) we will use a citizen science approach to collect water samples from rivers in the British Isles, Continental Europe and Canada. The samples will be analysed to reveal the fish communities following well-validated protocols carried out in experienced eDNA laboratories. Separately, we will also screen the samples specifically for traces of DNA from the Pink Salmon (Onchorhynchus gorbuscha), which is an invasive species.
Our ambition is that this will form the basis for a long-term monitoring programme which will allow the early detection of species decline and fish community change, and to identify the possible causes of these threats.
This non-profit project will be developed as a partnership with national stakeholders and local stakeholders who are interested to have their local river included, are willing to contribute to sample collection and are able to fun the field work and laboratory analysis (£450 per river). Data will be analysed by the scientific project team and made available to contributors as a summary report and will be published in a scientific journal.