From Stantec ERA: We can deliver power projects while keeping rare species safe

January 22, 2020 Jake Riley

Environmental DNA—or eDNA—biomonitoring is a breakthrough technology that revolutionizes how industry can reduce cost, efforts, and risks for energy projects

 

Energy and mining markets are committed to delivering necessary power, energy storage, and raw resources to their communities. Without proper planning these projects can negatively affect the very communities they are attempting to serve. New technology delivers tools that enable clients to detect rare species faster to help projects meet regulatory requirements.

All living organisms expel genetic material into their environment. We call this matter environmental DNA (eDNA). When it comes to fish and other aquatic species, eDNA is shed through the skin, scales, and waste into the water they inhabit. By sampling the water and analyzing this eDNA, we can detect the presence of a particular species.

 

 

Right now, our planet is facing a biodiversity challenge and some tough realities with regards to rare and endangered species. Globally, countless numbers of plant and animal species face extinction. Populations of some living organisms have declined at an alarming rate.

By monitoring these animals, we help design projects that reduce or avoid impacts to these species.

 

A progressive technology

Conventional methods for detecting aquatic species can take a long time, are more expensive, and can harm the target species and their habitat. This is where new eDNA technology provides an advantage. 

We are deploying the latest tools to sample, extract, and analyze eDNA to detect the presence of target species in the field. These tools allow us to produce accurate and rapid results, in real time.

 

The location of important renewable energy projects like offshore windmills can impact aquatic life. eDNA can help us identify what wildlife is present and adjust our designs to protect the important species. 

 

_q_tweetable:With the ability to detect rare species without catching or seeing them—the future is in the palm of your hand._q_We also partner with eDNA labs. These partnerships give us access to the latest tools to deliver eDNA results where and when it is needed, which results in projects staying on track.

Working together with the University of Guelph and Precision Biomonitoring, we are deploying a hand-held Point of Need tool to sample, extract, and analyze eDNA for the presence of target species in the field. This new tool allows us to produce accurate scientific results, in real time. And now, instead of waiting for eDNA test results to come back from a lab, we can get results live in the field—in less than two hours. This quick turnaround means projects can address permitting issues faster.

 

 

Results from the field

Through our lab partnerships, we can test for more than 60 species using eDNA technology, and the species list is growing. Notable studies thus far include the Jefferson salamander, an endangered species in Ontario, and the Atlantic salmon, whose status is endangered in the US and Canada.

In 2017, we tested 10 sites for the Jefferson salamander. Nine out of 10 test sites confirmed historical data of species presence or absence, based on visual surveys in early spring. However, eDNA testing at one site showed that Jefferson salamander was present when past visual surveys indicated that it was absent.

 

Read and download Stantec era Issue 02: The Digital Issue

 

Our work has shown that eDNA is delivering on its promise as a fast, cost-effective, sensitive tool for detecting the presence of rare, threatened, and endangered species at low densities in the environment.

 

Similarly, we sampled five stream sites for Atlantic salmon in 2018 using eDNA. We didn’t detect Atlantic salmon in the streams; however, we did detect eDNA downstream from our positive field control—a single caged Atlantic salmon—confirming that the tools were working. 

Our work has shown that eDNA is delivering on its promise as a fast, cost-effective, sensitive tool for detecting the presence of rare, threatened, and endangered species at low densities in the environment. We also have used eDNA to track invasive species so our clients could plan.

 

Knowing means better designs

Knowing the environment you are working in is essential at every stage of a project. In the early design phase, it is essential to get accurate results quickly. The results affect the timeline for the design team.

eDNA could be used for scouting sites for offshore winds or looking at different locations for onshore power lines.

 

Our goal? To help our clients meet their regulatory requirements effectively and efficiently while reducing costs and avoiding harmful impacts to rare species.

 

Heading forward

We are moving ahead with more applications of eDNA in the field to address client questions. We are learning, adapting, and embracing eDNA tools to provide reliable services about the presence of rare species in the field. We are using and planning for eDNA tools to detect shortnose sturgeon, bull trout, Arctic grayling, burbot, and striped bass. We’re also exploring uses for terrestrial ecosystems including bats. Our team is excited to continue developing tests for other species to expand overall use of eDNA tools for detection of species.

Our goal? To help our clients meet their regulatory requirements effectively and efficiently while reducing costs and avoiding harmful impacts to rare species.

About the Author

Jake Riley

Jake Riley is a project manager and fisheries biologist with over 13 years of experience in endangered freshwater aquatic species and fish habitats. His ability to work collaboratively with stakeholders and agencies of diverse backgrounds enables him to build effective project teams. Jake is an invaluable partner to our clients, as he brings scientific expertise to develop solutions that meet both project goals and agency requirements.

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