The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Development, Security, and Cooperation
Policy and Global Affairs
Home About DSC
Quick Links

FREE Reports     

Download free PDFs of
ALL Academy Reports

All reports available on the National Academies Press (NAP) website are now offered free of charge to web visitors.

Contact us

Keck Center
500 5th St NW - KWS 502
Washington, DC 20001

Tel: (202) 334-2800
Fax: (202) 334-2139


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

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
Since July 2015, Dr. Dang Thuy Binh and her colleagues and students have been working on laboratory analyses and gathering additional samples previously missed in their collection trips. September 12-15, 2015, the PI’s Master’s students collected fish in Soc Trang and Bac Lieu provinces, and they now have all the specimens needed for their project. They finished preparing their DNA library and sent it to Texas A&M University for analysis in September 2015. Although some difficulties were encountered in customs, the shipment was eventually delivered. After the results arrive, Dr. Binh and her team will continue their work on analyzing the data. Their preliminary results are providing an excellent picture of fish populations at fine geographical scale at various points in the Vietnamese Mekong (upstream, middle, and downstream). On September 21, Dr. Binh participated in a roundtable meeting of Vietnamese PEER PIs at the USAID mission in Hanoi. Following that meeting, she hosted USAID Regional Science and Technology Advisor Dr. Brandon Sitzmann, who toured the research facilities at Nha Trang University and met with NTU staff and students. In mid-October, Dr. Binh and her team are planning a two-week training course on ezRad, a new technique for restriction site–associated DNA (RAD) analysis, which will be led by a trainer from Texas A&M.

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).