Every six years a group of scientific researchers, community members, and non-profit, private, and federal organizations reunite for the Copper River Delta Science Symposium, to discuss the most pertinent topics of the Copper River Delta. The region is vital for fish and wildlife. It serves as an important stopover site for shorebirds, spawning areas for multiple species of salmon, and nesting habitat for the uncommon Dusky Canada Goose. Given the vital habitat that the Copper River Delta provides, the symposium focused on the delta as a system, a system that requires multiple parts or in this case sectors of expertise in order to function. Therefore, the conference was interdisciplinary and allowed the attendees to plan future research efforts. The discussions can go towards conserving this vital habitat in the face of climate change and other environmental changes. With diversity in mind, the speakers ranged from experts in hydrology, avian ecology, geomorphology, and trophic relationships.
One ecological topic that stood out to me focused on monitoring amphibians and their pathogens in Prince William Sound. What really captured my attention was the technique tested–the extraction of environmental DNA. Environmental DNA (eDNA) comes from substances secreted from animals into their environment, which includes, but is not limited to, feces, skin cells, mucus, and hair (basically anything from living organisms, the sky is the limit). Something to consider is that the habitat can impact eDNA’s deterioration rate over time; depending on the conditions eDNA can persist for a week, month, or up to a year! In this talk the researcher compared the efficacy between eDNA and traditional surveys to detect the presence of amphibians and diseases that impact them such as Chytrid fungus. I remember learning for the first time of this deadly fungus from an Animal Planet special that showed viewers the fungi’s role in deteriorating the global frog population. At any rate, the researcher found that the most effective way to detect the pathogens and amphibians was through both eDNA extraction and traditional methods. She also noticed that within the life-stage of frogs, tadpoles were the highest detected because they spend more time in the water than adults frogs.
I am glad that I was able to participate and volunteer in the Copper River Delta Science Symposium. Before I had a general idea of the scientific projects and collaborations in the Copper River Delta from a Forest Service report. It was fantastic, however, to learn about other projects and collaborations from diverse organizations in the region. It was also wonderful to try the locally renowned Baja Taco (highly raved Mexican restaurant); I had patiently waited for the grand opening. With tasty food, great people, and a wealth of knowledge discussed, it is safe to say that the Copper River Delta Science Symposium was a success!