Monday, May 11, 2015

Barcoding local - Contributions by course participants (7)

Happy Monday. Today a guest post by Mailyn Gonzalez from the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt in Bogotá, Colombia. She participated at the last Introduction to DNA Barcoding course and here is her take on barcoding in her home country:

Golden poison frog (image by Wilfried Berns)
Colombia is among the most biodiverse countries in the world. Major threats to our biodiversity are due to deforestation mainly driven by mining, urban expansion, industrial farming and illegal crops. In the last five years our economy seems to rely mostly on the energy industry with multiples projects to build hydroelectric power stations as well as oil and gold mining. However, other pressures such as species overexploitation and species invasions are also recognized to be a major problem even if better quantification of these issues is required.

In Colombia we have a strong taxonomic community that is continuously discovering and describing new species for science. In contrast, molecular disciplines have advanced slowly because of costs and legislation. Recently, more scientists are integrating molecular information into their research even if financial support remains a major obstacle.

Our institute's mission is to promote, coordinate and do research that contributes to the sustainable development of Colombia. DNA barcoding is a research line that I believe constitutes a valuable tool in facing important issues of conservation in my country. I will describe two particular projects that I would like to address.

1. Overexploitation of species: for example, Colombia is home to around 1900 species of birds, a lot of them geographically restricted and some groups highly trafficked. When bird species are confiscated they are usually labeled as “hummingbird” or “parrot’. However there are 152 hummingbird and 52 parrot species recognized. Being able to provide a proper identification would be important for: (1) legal action against the dealer, (2) determination of the geographic region where the species should be reintroduced (3) assess the overexploitation of each species and focus on prevention. Building a DNA barcode library of the species most trafficked across the borders would be a major advance in conservation.

A difficulty encounter is that environmental authorities have strict protocols of custody chain and normally do not rely systematically in the opinion of scientific experts. It is frustrating that so far they do not use the information being generated in major repositories. It would be challenging but fruitful to coordinate at least a pilot project where DNA could be collected from bird samples confiscated and proved how more accurate information can address solutions to diminish illegal species commerce.

2. Biomonitoring of ecosystems: Hydroelectric power and mining are driving the current national economy. In the first case, limnologists periodically assess the taxonomic composition of  the water reservoirs, a task that may take several days for one sample. In the case of mining, usually the soil biota is the most affected and also the least known. How to control the recovery of soil biota communities after mining? Or the success of a restoration site? I think that barcoding water and soil samples would be the most reliable and cost efficient way to monitoring these systems.

A major impediment right now in Colombia is funding. Once that the companies understand that this technology is reliable and cost-efficient they will support it, but first we require funds to set up a pilot and show them the utility of this initiative.

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