Project summary

The study of the genetics of populations has become a valuable means to investigate the origins of the extreme biodiversity of SE Asia (e.g. Lukoschek et al. 2012, Carpenter et al. 2011). 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 proposed PEER project extends this investigation into the estuarine and freshwater biomes of the most prominent and extremely biodiverse hydrological feature of SE Asia, the Mekong Delta (MD). Connectivity of populations across and within the MD are shaped by the complex and dynamic physical processes of the Mekong River Basin (MRB). The outflow of the MRB will potentially serve as a barrier to gene flow of marine populations distributed along the coast of Vietnam similar to what is observed for the Amazon River (Rocha et al. 2002). Also similar to the Amazon system, the complex branches and hydrography of the MD 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). This PEER project will examine fine-scale population connectivity of a marine, estuarine, and freshwater species across the MD using advanced genomic methodologies. This will initiate a long-term research program to investigate processes that promote lineage diversification across the MD and provide a basis to examine genetic adaptation of populations to the changing conditions of the MD caused by increasing effects of damming, development, agriculture and climate change.

The study of the genetics of populations has become a valuable tool in conservation and resource management (Hauser & Seeb 2008, Reed & Frankham 2003) and is becoming increasingly used for Mekong River Basin (MRB) resources and biodiversity (e.g. Adamson et al. 2009, Nguyen & Sunnucks 2012). Advanced genomics has improved our ability to apply population genetics for these purposes (Allendorf et al. 2010, Seeb et al. 2011). The Mekong Delta (MD) of Vietnam harbors a very high diversity of species and highly valuable fisheries resources (Campbell 2012). However, climate change, numerous dams planned for the MRB, engineering for hydrological control, and increased agriculture, human population and development pose significant challenges for the maintenance of the wealth of biodiversity and resources of the MD (Baran & Guerin 2012, Campbell 2012, Grumbine et al. 2012, Kokonen 2008, Poulsen et al. 2004, Stone 2011). This proposed PEER project will provide valuable information about the connectivity of aquatic populations within and across the mouth of the MD 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 (IUCN) 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 MD. The U.S. collaborator manages an IUCN threatened species project and extending collaboration through this PEER project will engage additional interest in the MD.

An important development impact will be science and gender capacity building in Vietnam, which in turn will lead to improved capability to manage the biodiversity and resources of the MD. The Principal Investigator for this project is an early career woman professional having obtained her Ph.D. in 2010. She has undergone initial training in advanced genomics as part of two NSF projects managed by the U.S. collaborator for this PEER project. The U.S. collaborator is also dedicated to helping her further develop expertise in advanced genomics and apply this to biodiversity management. Therefore, his project will further train and allow her to put in practice these new methods and apply them to the most pressing environmental concern in Vietnam: the threats to biodiversity and resources of the MD.