STREAM DNA (Sequencing The Rivers for Environmental Assessment and Monitoring), is a new community-based project which involves the collection of bulk DNA samples from rivers across Canada.


This project is a collaboration between Living Lakes Canada (LLC), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the Hajibabaei Lab in Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (University of Guelph) and aims to engage members of the public to collect data for monitoring of river health.

Research methodology for STREAM DNA builds upon existing benthic biomonitoring protocols carried out by the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN), which involves kick-netting to collect benthos for identification of macroinvertebrates using microscopes and taxonomic keys. STREAM DNA biomonitoring involves the same protocol for collecting samples, however samples are homogenized and DNA is extracted for next-generation sequencing (NGS) analysis of macroinvertebrate taxa.

Each year, STREAM DNA aims to recruit and train community members to collect a total of 1500 samples, through collaborative training videos and outreach materials. The benefits of collaborating with citizens for biomonitoring include both the increased number of samples for analysis, numbers which simply are not possible for researchers to collect independently and the ability to tap into knowledge of local people and indigenous groups. Through using community groups to collect these bulk benthos samples, macroinvertebrate communities can be determined within numerous catchments, some of which are heavily data-deficient rivers.

Why Benthic Macroinvertebrates?

As benthic macronvertebrates are sensitive to a variety of physical and environmental disturbances, this makes them an ideal target group for determining the state of the local environment. Some orders act as important biological indicators for the health status of rivers. Overall, the STREAM project will allow a database to be established, with all the different macroinvertebrate species which can be found in watersheds from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

More information improves our understanding of how the natural world functions. To be able to understand what the effects of environmental issues such as water pollution and global temperature increase have on the macroinvertebrate communities, we need to have an idea of the baseline benthic communities currently existing in rivers across Canada. STREAM DNA will enable an understanding of where different key macroinvertebrate taxa are and the community composition and structure at different geographical levels. From this data, monitoring the long-term responses of benthic macroinvertebrates to change becomes possible, which is fundamental for assessing how rivers as a whole will respond to global environmental change.

Left to right: Flatheaded mayfly larvae, green sedge caddisfly larvae and golden stonefly larvae. These species are macroinvertebrates known to be sensitive to changes in environmental conditions. (Chloe Robinson)