Nav: Home

DNA barcoding technology helping monitor health of all-important boreal forests

October 06, 2017

The Boreal forest is essential to Canada and the world, storing carbon, purifying water and air and regulating climate. But keeping tabs on the health of this vulnerable biome has proven to be a painstaking and time-consuming undertaking - until now.

Cutting-edge DNA metabarcoding technology developed by the University of Guelph can help speed up and improve the monitoring process, according to a new study published today in Scientific Reports.

"We get a lot more information out of DNA, and we were able to reproduce the data and the interpretations of the data that the standard morphology approach provided," said study co-author Mehrdad Hajibabaei, a professor in U of G's Department of Integrative Biology.

In the study, researchers compared use of advanced DNA meta-barcoding technology -- identifying DNA from many aquatic organisms at once -- with hands-on identification of invertebrate specimens, used for decades to assess ecosystem biodiversity.

Accurate and timely information about the boreal ecosystem has never been more urgently needed, according to forest scientists. Rising temperatures in the boreal region are leading to degradation of permafrost, as well as more intense droughts and wildfires. Climate change is causing wildfires to burn more fiercely, pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

However, federal scientists have been challenged by the sheer volume of bio-monitoring needed for Canada's forest integrity program, Hajibabaei said.

"They need to assess the health of this forest, and one way to do that is to look at the presence of invertebrates in the streams."

Stream health is an indicator of overall forest health and biodiversity. The time-tested but time-consuming approach was to manually collect specimens by hand and then identify indicator organisms.

"Natural Resources Canada wanted to get into using the approach - DNA metabarcoding - that my lab has been researching for quite some time," Hajibabaei said.

"They approached us and we initiated this collaboration. The importance of this work is both in terms of taking this approach into a real-world scenario and helping to address the needs of Canadian Forest Service for timely monitoring."

Metabarcoding is quick and highly effective at detecting many different aquatic organisms in water, Hajibabaei said.

Identifying invertebrates manually takes time and requires experts, whose results may not always be consistent, he added.

Another important aspect of the work is that it can be applied to an environmental gradient, measuring fluctuations in conditions based on various stressors and processes, Hajibabaei said.

The study involved scientists from U of G's Centre for Biodiversity Genomics and Natural Resources Canada's Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

The study calls metabarcoding "a potentially transformative approach to biomonitoring, biodiversity discovery and ecosystem health assessments."

The findings give Natural Resources Canada more confidence in DNA monitoring, Hajibabaei said. "Obviously if they want to mitigate any type of impact, faster and more high throughput approaches are always in demand."
-end-


University of Guelph

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.