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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Conservation genetics for improved biodiversity and resource management in a changing Mekong Delta

PI:  Dang Thuy Binh (Nha Trang University)
U.S. Partner: Kent E. Carpenter (Old Dominion University)
Project Dates: August 2013 to January 2016

 Vietnam3
The project team commences its DNA labwork (Photo courtesy Dr. Binh).

The study of the genetics of populations is a valuable tool in investigating the origins of the extreme biodiversity of southeast Asia. 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 to Vietnam and Thailand to better understand mechanisms of speciation in the marine realm of this region. This PEER Science project leverages and extends this investigation into the estuarine and freshwater biomes of the most prominent and extremely biodiverse hydrological feature of southeast Asia, the Mekong Delta. Connectivity of populations across and within the Mekong Delta is shaped by the complex and dynamic physical processes of the Mekong River Basin. The outflow of the basin will potentially serve as a barrier to gene flow of marine populations distributed along the coast of Vietnam similar to what has been observed for the Amazon River (Rocha et al. 2002). Also similar to the Amazon system, the complex branches and hydrography of the Mekong Delta 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) within the Mekong Delta. This PEER project aims to examine fine-scale population connectivity of three fish species (marine, estuarine, and freshwater) across the Mekong Delta using advanced genomic methodologies. This will initiate a long-term research program to investigate processes that promote lineage diversification across the delta and provide a basis to examine genetic adaptation of populations to the changing conditions of the delta caused by increasing effects of damming, development, agriculture and climate change.
 
This PEER Science project should produce valuable information about the connectivity of aquatic populations within and across the mouth of the Mekong Delta 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 Red List (IUCN 2012), and the population information gained in this study will be applicable to its conservation and biodiversity conservation in general in the Mekong Delta. As for capacity building, the project will provide training to Vietnamese researchers and give them a solid foundation for applying their new methods and skills to most pressing environmental concern in Vietnam: threats to the biodiversity and resources of the Mekong Delta.
 
Summary of Recent Activities
 
Following their trip to ODU, the project team returned to Vietnam where they were successful in obtaining roughly 96 libraries that were then made available for sequencing. This amount of data has allowed for the recruitment of a new graduate student to help with data research on the project. The team also contacted their colleagues at ODU and Texas A&M for sequencing assistance. There were issues sending the samples to ODU, but the team is in the process of rectifying the problems so that the libraries can reach their US colleagues as soon as possible.

The US visit proved fruitful in expanding the project network of collaborators. Through their work at Mississippi State University, the team established cooperative agreements with the university and hope to welcome their first exchange visitor, Prof. Don Jackson, in the new year. The team also established relationships through presentations and information exchanges at local conferences in December.

In the coming year, from January to March 2015, the team plans to conduct a sampling in the Mekon and Dong Nai Rivers to gather additional data and samples for sequencing.
  

Vietnam 1
Dr. Carpenter and students preparing for an expedition on the water (Photo courtesy Dr. Binh).

Vietnam 2
Dr. Carpenter at a fish market examining the local catch in search of species (Photo courtesy Dr. Binh).