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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Riverscape Genetics to Inform Natural History of Exploited Fishes in the Lower Mekong River Basin 

PI: Dang Thuy Binh,, Institute for Biotechnology and Environment, Nha Trang University (NTU); with co-PIs Chheng Phen,, Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFReDI); Latsamy Phounvisouk,, Living Aquatic Resources Research Center (LARReC); Chaiwut Grudpan,, Ubon Ratchathani University (UBU); and Mie Mie Kyaw,, University of Mandalay
U.S. Partner: Jeffrey Williams, Smithsonian Institution

Project Facebook Page:

Project Overview:

Riverscape genetics, or the influence of hydrographic features on the genetics and ecology of lentic and lotic populations, is a young discipline (Selkoe et al. 2016). There have been several temperate riverscape studies with a few tropical studies, being limited mostly to the Amazon and Australia. Very little is known about the population genetics of fishes in the Mekong River Basin (MRB), which is characterized by complicated hydrographic features, including wide seasonal fluctuations in flow (Mekong River Commission 2005, Chea et al. 2016) and numerous changes experienced and expected with more than 350 hydropower dams built, under construction, and planned (Winemiller et al. 2016). This PEER project will support the completion of population genetic studies of 14 species across 26 MRB locations from Myanmar to the Vietnam delta. This will augment information on 2 species collected and analyzed during the PI’s project in PEER Cycle 2, add new localities to species initiated in a project on which she was co-PI in PEER Cycle 3, and add an additional 6 species not already initiated in previous PEER projects. Advanced genomic analyses will continue to be conducted on data collected using restriction site-associated DNA (RAD) data. These analyses will provide important information on the population structure, effective population size, and directionality of gene flow to substantially add to our knowledge of the natural history of Mekong River fishes. The extent of collection sites throughout the Lower Mekong Basin and the number of species in this study provide the basis for the first ever comparative riverscape genetic analysis of fishes of tropical Southeast Asia.

To ensure that the scientific information to be developed is available to and useful for resource managers, outreach will take place in conjunction with all field and annual meeting activities throughout this project. This will include seminars followed by roundtable discussions to introduce and understand how these analyses can be used and the consequences of disrupting the present population structure. The outreach efforts will target resource managers and development planners in governmental, intergovernmental, non-governmental, and academic institutions in the region, with particular emphasis on those involved in hydropower development projects. This project will also build on the need to create stronger regional collaborations for a better knowledge base to inform decision making by solidifying collaborations initiated during the PEER Cycle 3 project. This will be done by expanding the work done by collaborators in each of the four Lower Mekong Basin existing partner countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam) and expanding this to Myanmar by including for the first time a collection component in that country. This new PEER project will add the University of Mandalay, Myanmar, to the network and will aim to build the advanced genomic capacity of all collaborative institutions to the level currently enjoyed at Nha Trang University.

6-435 Partner Visit at Lake6-435 Siem Reap Meeting
The team pauses for a picture during sample collection at Tonle Sap Lake.Participants of kick-off meeting in Siem Reap, Cambodia (photo courtesy of Dr. Binh).

Summary of Recent Activities:

Dr. Binh, her four co-PIs, other project researchers, and U.S. partners Dr. Kent Carpenter and Dr. Jeffrey Williams gathered in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on June 15, 2018, for an intensive one-day project kickoff meeting. Beginning at 4:00 AM, participants conducted sampling at a fish landing site on Tonle Sap Lake to look for their potential target species. After that, they visited a local market (Phsar Leu) to seek additional fish species. In total, they found around 10 species, and the sample collection served as a useful training exercise for new co-PI Dr. Mie Mie Kyaw and a refresher for other participants who had previously been involved with two related PEER project (3-100 and 2-007). After the short collecting trip, the participants returned to the meeting site, and thanks to extended discussions they were able to agree on several crucial points for planning their upcoming activities. All partners agreed to use EzRAD and ddRAD as the molecular approaches for their fish genetic study in the Mekong River Basin. Fish samples will be analyzed in three labs: NTU (Vietnam), IFReDI (Cambodia), and UBU (Thailand). Training on molecular techniques and the second annual meeting will be held at NTU, and the third annual meeting will be held at UBU. Each annual meeting and sample collection should be conducted with support from the U.S. partners, and UBU will provide additional assistance to Mandalay University for sampling at Tar-Chi-Leik. Dr. Binh and Dr. Carpenter may assist Laos with sampling in the Khan River. All partners selected the fish sampling sites and agreed on the species to be collected (20 species in total). Each partner institution involved will conduct outreach activities in their respective countries, including through scientific seminars, forums, workshops, conferences, and official meetings with relevant agencies. All partners will share project activities through a project Facebook page to be created by NTU.

As for sampling, NTU has already worked with UBU to complete the collection of fish specimens from Ubon Rachathani (10 species, 1 population each). The samples are now at NTU to be checked for DNA quality. The other partners have not yet conducted any additional sampling, although the team at LARReC plans to meet with fisherman around the Khan River to discuss their possible involvement. During the late summer and fall of 2018, all partners will clarify target species and conduct sampling at their assigned study sites. The team will recruit one PhD student at NTU and at least one Master’s student at each partner institution to join the project. Dr. Binh and her team will also organize a training session about EzRAD/ddRAD at NTU. Meanwhile, the PI will also continue working to address a new regulation in Vietnam, whereby all projects must be approved by the government. NTU has been following the procedures to obtain the approval, but so far it has not been received, so certain activities involving the new Cycle 6 PEER funds are delayed.

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