A University of Guelph professor spoke this week to federal politicians about how citizens and communities can contribute to biodiversity science research in Canada.  

Dr. Mehrdad Hajibabaei, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and research professor at U of G’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, addressed the standing committee on science and research in Ottawa on Feb. 16.  

He discussed DNA-based technologies for rapid biodiversity assessments and a Canada-wide project called STREAM that he’s leading to examine biodiversity and overall health of rivers.  

“A major bottleneck that we are facing is related to generating samples from rivers across Canada on a timely basis,” said Hajibabaei. He has spent 15 years developing advanced DNA technologies, such as metabarcoding, for large-scale biodiversity analysis.  

River and biodiversity monitoring are a challenge given Canada’s expansive geography, climate change and development projects, said Hajibabaei.  

He explained that STREAM works with community groups, including several Indigenous communities, to offer standardized training for collecting biodiversity samples from local waterways.  

“We’ve engaged over 100 individuals from many communities, and they have collectively gathered 1,400 samples from 15 watersheds nationally,” he said.  

That data is then shared with the pertinent community through reports prepared by Hajibabaei’s team and its partner organizations: Living Lakes Canada, WWF-Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. 

Hajibabaei said his team hopes to expand its approach to fish, vertebrates and hosts and vectors of infectious agents such as emerging zoonotic viruses to maintain healthy watersheds and the communities that rely on them.