Protecting Canada’s Forests against Invasive Alien Species by Next Generation Biosurveillance
Invasive alien species like emerald ash borer are in the news, causing irreversible damage to the environment and costing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Canadian economy, affecting agriculture, forestry and international trade.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) protects Canada’s forests and agricultural resources by intercepting alien forest pests and intervening before they establish themselves. The Agency is partnering with scientists at the University of British Columbia and a network of academics from Université Laval in Québec and Natural Resources Canada to develop, validate and deploy genome-based biosurveillance tools aimed at two species – the Asian gypsy moth (AGM), which feeds on a wide range of economically important tree species, and Phytophthora ramorum (PR), which attacks dozens of plants and tree species including oak trees. The tools will use DNA detection arrays that target unique genome regions in the pests, improving CFIA’s ability to better detect and identify these two species. The project will take approximately three years, after which CFIA laboratories will use the tools to enhance and complement their current procedures.
The benefits will be significant. Knowing more about the sources of infestations will decrease the resources needed for inspection and surveillance and reduce treatment costs. By preventing the introduction and establishment of these pests in the first place, the costs of dealing with them will be avoided, while Canada’s pest-free status, important to maintaining expert markets, will be maintained. Adoption of these tools is forecast to save an estimated $374-$625 million over three-to-five years.