Whitehorse, YT – Scientists have determined that eDNA technology is both accurate and effective in detecting presence of Chinook salmon in Yukon waterways. Technology Innovation of the Yukon Research Centre, and Hemmera, a local environmental consulting company have completed the first environmental DNA (eDNA) research of its kind to detect a species that is both culturally and economically significant to Yukoners.

Scientists filtered DNA from Yukon waterways to map Chinook salmon habitat use. Water samples were collected from streams in the Upper Teslin, Nisutlin and Kusuwa Lake drainages. Results have shown a 94.9% accuracy in detecting the presence of Chinook salmon. This new technology is a great benefit to management agencies, industry, environmental assessors, and the overall health of the species.

“This eDNA technology could be used throughout the Territory with the potential of applying this technology to other key fish species in Yukon, and throughout the North,” said Kirstin Damude, Project Coordinator, Technology Innovation. “This technology can now be used to develop eDNA-based maps of Chinook salmon for groups that require this information for conservation and resource extraction purposes.”

Environmental DNA from salmon is genetic material (feces, urine, mucus, skin cells) that is left in the river system as they migrate. eDNA is unique in that the salmon do not need to be present at the time of sampling; a water sample within 21 days of salmon presence is enough to indicate if Chinook were present in the river upstream from the sample site.

The research included natural exclusion experiments where water was sampled above and below barriers where salmon cannot pass. These results demonstrated the accuracy of this technology as there was 100% detection where salmon could pass and 0% where there were barriers to their movement.

“This program demonstrated the effectiveness of eDNA in the North, and showed that we are only beginning to explore its full utility as a tool for renewable and non-renewable resource managers,” said Michael Muller, Project Director, Hemmera. “Hemmera is pleased to continue to advance the application of this exciting technology throughout the North.”

This technology has been applied successfully to amphibian, fish, and aquatic mammal species-at-risk throughout British Columbia, and Yukon. The results from the eDNA technology were compared to previous salmon spawning studies and proved that eDNA-based maps of Chinook salmon habitat use could be valuable for groups that require this information for conservation and resource extraction purposes.

Results will be shared at a public event on Thursday, March 17th. The event will take place from 2:00 to 3:00pm in room A2206 at Yukon College Ayamdigut (Whitehorse) campus. Results will be made available to the public on our website this spring.

This research has been funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Government of Yukon’s Economic Development.

Technology Innovation is one of a number of thematic areas at the Yukon Research Centre. The others include biodiversity monitoring, climate change, cold climate innovation, environmental remediation, and social science.