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PEER 2013 - 2014

Project name: 
Conservation Genetics for Improved Biodiversity and Resource Management in a Changing Mekong Delta



Project summary

Scientific merit

The study of the genetics of populations has become a valuable means to investigate the origins of the extreme biodiversity of SE Asia (e.g. Lukoschek et al. 2012, Carpenter et al. 2011). The National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) project “Origins of high marine biodiversity in the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago” has extended phylogeographic studies toVietnam and Thailand to better understand mechanisms of speciation in the marine realm of this region. This proposed PEER project extends this investigation into the estuarine and freshwater biomes of the mostprominent and extremely biodiverse hydrological feature of SE Asia, the Mekong Delta (MD). Connectivity ofpopulations across and within the MD are shaped by the complex and dynamic physical processes of theMekong River Basin (MRB). The outflow of the MRB will potentially serve as a barrier to gene flow of marine populations distributed along the coast of Vietnam similar to what is observed for the Amazon River (Rocha et al. 2002). Also similar to the Amazon system, the complex branches and hydrography of the MD provide both potential barriers and environmental gradients that would influence gene flow and natural selection of vertebrate populations (e.g. Cooke et al. 2012, Hollatz 2011). This PEER project will examine fine-scale population connectivity of a marine, estuarine, and freshwater species across the MD using advancedgenomic methodologies. This will initiate a long-term research program to investigate processes that promote lineage diversification across the MD and provide a basis to examine genetic adaptation of populations to the changing conditions of the MD caused by increasing effects of damming, development, agriculture and climate change.

Development impacts

The study of the genetics of populations has become a valuable tool in conservation and resource management (Hauser & Seeb 2008, Reed & Frankham 2003) and is becoming increasingly used for Mekong River Basin (MRB) resources and biodiversity (e.g. Adamson et al. 2009, Nguyen & Sunnucks 2012). Advanced genomics has improved our ability to apply population genetics for these purposes (Allendorf et al. 2010, Seeb et al. 2011). The Mekong Delta (MD) of Vietnam harbors a very high diversity of species and highly valuable fisheries resources (Campbell 2012). However, climate change, numerous dams planned for the MRB, engineering for hydrological control, and increased agriculture, human population and development pose significant challenges for the maintenance of the wealth of biodiversity and resources of the MD (Baran & Guerin 2012, Campbell 2012, Grumbine et al. 2012, Kokonen 2008, Poulsen et al. 2004, Stone 2011). This proposed PEER project will provide valuable information about the connectivity of aquatic populations within and across the mouth of the MD that can be used for improved environmental governance such as delineating management zones and formulating strategies for biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, one species to be studied is considered Near Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List (IUCN 2012) and the population information gained in this study will be applicable to itsconservation and biodiversity conservation in general in the MD. The U.S. collaborator manages an IUCN threatened species project and extending collaboration through this PEER project will engage additional interest in the MD.

An important development impact will be science and gender capacity building in Vietnam, which in turn will lead to improved capability to manage the biodiversity and resources of the MD. The Principal Investigator for this project is an early career woman professional having obtained her Ph.D. in 2010. She has undergone initial training in advanced genomics as part of two NSF projects managed by the U.S. collaborator for this PEER project. The U.S. collaborator is also dedicated to helping her further develop expertise in advanced genomics and apply this to biodiversity management. Therefore, his project will further train and allow her to put in practice these new methods and apply them to the most pressing environmental concernin Vietnam: the threats to biodiversity and resources of the MD.

PEER 2014 - 2017

Project name; Building a Mekong River Genetic Biodiversity Research Network


Project summary

Scientific merit

The Mekong River Basin (MRB) represents a global hotspot of aquatic biodiversity (Dudgeon et al. 2006, Allen et al. 2012) second only to the Amazon River in terms of total fish species richness (Hortle 2009, Baran et al. 2012). The origins of this diversity are hypothesized to stem from complex biogeographic processes (Woodruff 2010). However, actual tests of these hypotheses are scarce (Lukosheck et al. 2012), and there is continued discovery of the limits and relationships of this biodiversity (Woodruff 2010, Baran et al. 2012).

Population genetic studies have revealed both strong and weak spatial structure in the MRB that have mostly been linked to management implications (So et al. 2006a, 2006b, 2006c, 2006d, Ngamsiri et al. 2007, Hurwood et al. 2008, Adamson et al. 2009, Nguyen & Sunnucks 2012) but that also can be used for scientifichypothesis testing in the MRB (Lukosheck et al. 2012). Comparative phylogeographic studies are being used to test specific hypotheses relative to the origins of the extreme marine species richness in Southeast Asia (Carpenter et al. 2011), and advanced genomic methods expand our capability to test similar hypothesesrelative to the origins of MRB biodiversity (Willette et al. 2014). The purpose of this project will be to initiate
a network of scientists working in the MRB whose coordinated action will lead to a systematic sampling ofpopulations and species to provide a set of robust tests of biogeographic origins of MRB biodiversity through advanced genomics and comparative phylogeography. Specifically, we will aim to examine a set of synchronously diverging co-distributed taxa (Dawson 2014) to examine if genetic connectivity or barriers to gene flow are because of processes relating to ecological (relatively recent) or evolutionary (geological) time scales. Directionality of gene flow will be tested to determine if connectivity is predominantly governed by larval dispersal through prevailing fluvial flow or if fish movement patterns potentially reverses this natural tendency. Shared phylogeographic patterns among taxa will be examined together with both present ecological and geological processes to corroborate likely causality in a natural experimental framework.

Development impacts

Population genetic data used for testing explicit phylogeographic hypotheses serve a dual purpose by supporting biodiversity conservation and management of resources (Allendorf et al 2010, Carpenter et al. UT VU Can Tho University Printed On: 13 January 2014 PEER Science Cycle 3 6 2011, Ovenden et al. 2013). A significant development impact of this project will be the establishment of a network of scientists, managers, and conservationists interested in using genetics to better understand and
manage the biodiversity of the MRB. A primary partner will be the Mekong River Commission who previously initiated population genetic data collection for important species, and an aim will be to strengthen and expand this initiative. The implementation of the project will forge and strengthen long-term collaborative research ties through mutual design and implementation of a comparative population genetic project. Since most of the participants do not have extensive experience in next generation sequencing and advanced genomic analysis, another proximate development impact will be the training of aquatic researchers across the MRB in this methodology. Population genetic data will be systematically collected as a result of the establishment of the network, and these data will be analyzed for information relative to resource management and biodiversity conservation. These data will also be used as the basis for establishing a longterm genetic monitoring system for aquatic resources and integrity of genetic biodiversity. The benefits of these data will include:

1) The ability to estimate and monitor effective population size of exploited stocks.
2) Evaluation of spatial stock structure for fisheries management, for assessment of fragmentation due to
damming, and to enhance adaptive mitigation and management in anticipation of hydrological changes from
climate change and damming.
3) The baseline information on genetic variability collected during this study will allow monitoring of
genetic integrity that may be influenced by fishing, stock enhancement (release of hatchery reared
individuals), and accidental release from aquaculture.
4) The baseline information on genetic variability collected during this study will allow monitoring of
genetic variation as potential for biological adaptation and resilience to changing environmental conditions.
5) Establishment of a genetic data repository in collaboration with the Mekong River Commission for data