Monitoring Project Success
Environmental DNA Analysis (eDNA)
Northern Redbelly Dace are classified as a species of greatest conservation concern in Colorado, and are an important indicator species for in-stream habitat quality as climate change progresses. The species prefer a "goldilocks" transition zone, where waters are neither too hot nor too cold, in order to thrive. Unfortunately, currently there is minimal data available on the genetic sequence to increase our understanding of the species DNA. To overcome this obstacle, the Northern Redbelly Dace Recovery team has produced a novel bioassay primer for the species, that will be key to detecting its presence within aquatic ecosystems in the future.
Each aquatic sample is procured with sanitary techniques utilizing a filter that specializes in capturing DNA molecules from water being forced through the filter by a pump system. Collection of the Northern Redbelly Dace Recovery Project takes place under Colorado Parks & Wildlife Protocols and is submitted to Pisces Molecular for e-DNA analysis.
Individuals raised in captivity served as the source of the positive DNA primer for species detection, in order to ensure there is no contamination from other sources of DNA. Samples were then collected and sent to a lab specializing in DNA analysis to create a "controlled positive" to serve as a suitable primer for future study, unique to the DNA of Northern Redbelly Dace. Once the DNA of the species is isolated and passes quality control inspection, it will be saved in a database under the freshwater aquatic species category to be used for further e-DNA analysis on water samples in order to detect the presence of Northern Redbelly Dace.
The visual survey portion of Northern Redbelly Dace Project is primarily based on gathering video footage confirming the continued presence of the species. Underwater footage is used in order to confirm the feasibility of the project by documenting the survival and success of Northern Redbelly Dace at release sites long-term, overwinter, while exposed to natural variations over an extended period of time without human intervention. The video below was recorded in April of 2021, after a major gas spill along Highway 36 into the St. Vrain Creek in Lyons, CO where both the fish and the overall water quality of the pond were monitored closely for several days but showed no signs of distress.
Currently, St. Vrain Valley School District students are planning to deploy a full-pilot program that trains artificial intelligence to identify species present in underwater video. The goal would be to utilize accessible underwater cameras like Go-Pro's for observation and then sort through hours of footage without having to watch every second in order to accurately survey species present. This could be utilized in aquatic conservation in many important contexts, but could be particularly useful in the Northern Redbelly Dace Project. Artificial intelligence could help monitor hours, days, weeks, or months of underwater footage in order to identify suitable habitat for a particular species by structural quality, turbidity, or even presence of predators.
Continued Water Quality Monitoring
After the release of any native species, it is important to monitor the quality of the habitat they were released into over an extended period of time. This will help quantify the variable environmental factors over time that could affect sustainability of the species long-term. The parameters taken for habitat quality differ highly by the needs and sensitivities of the target species, and therefore extensive research must be done beforehand to build a plan for what measurements that matter most and why.
In the case of the Northern Redbelly Dace, the parameters monitored are standard measurements commonly monitored in freshwater aquariums, ponds, lakes, and rivers. The ideal results would show:
- Low turbidity
- pH around 7.0
- Summer temperatures between 64-74 °F
- Dissolved oxygen above 6 mg/L
- Minimal to no presence of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.