Aquatic Environmental DNA Atlas: Largest Aquatic Species Map Of Western US To Be Released Next Summer


Efforts are on to compile a biodiversity map in the United States to identify various aquatic species in rivers and streams in the Western United States. Scientists are hoping that the first Aquatic Environmental DNA Atlas will be out by next summer.

Heading the project is Dan Isaak, a fisheries biologist at the U.S. Forest Service who said a map could be useful in land management and marine investments.

"It's kind of the Holy Grail for biologists to know what a true biodiversity map looks like," he said.

The map seeks to survey most species ranging from insects to fishes and river otters.

Isaak is a veteran with experience in running a project known as the Cold Water Climate Shield, which sought to identify if a body of water is ideal for housing cold-water species, including bull trout.

According to Isaak, annual surveys would add fresh insights to scientists in understanding the changes happening in various biodiversity and ecosystems.

New Technology Surveying Aquatic Species

However, he said sample collection for the survey is going to be a challenge given the scale of the mapping, but the good news is that a new technology will help make the atlas easily, as stream inhabitants can be identified by analyzing water samples containing their DNA.

Michael Schwartz, Forest Service's director of the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation Montana, said the technology will detect one species in the beginning and start multiple species identification in a year's time.

The frontrunner to the current survey was the Bull Trout Environmental DNA Atlas, which covered five states of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.

The map revealed the locations of bull trout in areas that were previously not thought of. There is a realization that a comprehensive, census-style understanding of aquatic species populations is crucial to the success of environmental preservation as climate change is altering the landscape.

Diversity In River Species

River life is rich in animals including trout, smallmouth bass and muskies. According to a blog, the southeastern United States has great diversity with the Upper Tennessee River Basin (UTRB) covering a whopping 255 species of fish and mussels.

Despite the incredible diversity, a number of stream animals are imperiled because of so many dams and water contamination.

Out of the 172 fish species, 13 are on the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 32 are mussel species. Some 45 species are endangered class in the river basin that has the size of West Virginia.

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