Freshwater ecosystems are largely out of sight, out of mind - we take them for granted. Yet they are vital to human health and well-being, and to local economies; they are among the most threatened of the earth’s environments. Not surprisingly they are also poorly understood. This makes the conservation and management of all biodiversity in our lochs and rivers, including fish stocks, a difficult challenge, but one that must be met for a sustainable future.
We do not fully know what biodiversity resides in our lochs and rivers and what its importance is to their effective functioning. Even fish biodiversity is poorly understood and our knowledge of other parts of the communities in our rivers and lochs is even more limited.
Established in 2012 the RLI specialises in using molecular genetics to better understand freshwater biodiversity. Using molecular genetics it is now possible to :
- determine what species are present in a river or loch by analysing a sample of water
- establish whether a river’s stock of fish is composed of multiple breeding populations
- determine whether breeding populations differ in run-timing, growth, sea-age and ability to deal with environmental differences related to pH, temperature, flow conditions
DNA analysis has revolutionised the practise of medicine and forensics in respect of human populations. It also can revolutionise freshwater biodiversity conservation and management. So far its impact in this sector has been limited, in part due to a lower R&D investment in basic science, but also because of a failure to effectively transfer knowledge of DNA technology to freshwater managers.
The Rivers and Lochs Institute will fully integrate training and education activities with cutting edge research, ensuring transfer of new knowledge to the heart of management practice.
This will significantly contribute to the delivery of :
- Improved management practice
- Healthier more productive freshwater systems
- More sustainable resource use
- Effective, informed support for communities and rural development
- Best practice hydro and other renewable development Better understanding of the impact of climate change
- Informed understanding of the consequences of aquaculture development
- Improved data that will allow more accurate targeting of conservation measures to protect threatened components of fish stocks.
- Insights into river of origin fish in coastal and high seas mixed stock fisheries and the regional origin of fish caught at sea
The Rivers and Lochs Institute aims to develop and deliver bespoke research, education and training to support management for change and adaptation in freshwater biodiversity. It has the potential to become a world leader in this field, located in the heart of the Highlands and Islands where the importance of the freshwater environment is vital to a thriving economy.