Preserving Canada's Biodiversity
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada maintains the largest bioresource reference collection in Canada
Located on the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) in Ottawa, as part of the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre (ECORC), the KW Neatby and William Saunders buildings look like most government buildings of their day - traditional brick buildings with rows and rows of windows. Most visitors probably walk by without ever really giving these buildings a second thought.
Yet, within those old brick walls lays an assemblage of invaluable national treasures - the largest bioresource reference collections of fungi, insects and vascular plants in Canada.
A team of over 75 scientists, researchers, biologists and technicians work with the various specimens in the collections at ECORC to ensure the protection and preservation of Canadian biodiversity. The team of scientists:
- identify unknown species and specimens, sometimes for the first time;
- develop control measures to stem the advance of invasive alien species into Canada;
- forecast the spread of invasive species;
- discover the scientific, medical, environmental and social importance of the specimens; and, with increasing importance,
- provide support for research aimed at reducing the billions of dollars lost annually to invasive species in agriculture, forestry, northern wilderness areas and other native habitants.
The collections and the scientists who work with them are important in not only protecting and preserving Canadian biodiversity but also addressing economically-important problems for the agri-food sector.
This was illustrated during a sudden outbreak of potato wart disease in 2000 in Prince Edward Island - the potato capital of Canada. When the outbreak occurred, immediately the potato industry ceased exports to the United States and the infected fields had to be located and contained quickly before there was to be any chance of opening the market back up. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency turned to the ECORC mycology unit in Ottawa.
In only six weeks, collections staff were able to develop the unique DNA profile of the disease agent, which helped with the confirmatory testing being done by CFIA in determining if the contamination of one field in PEI had spread or not. Thanks in part to the work of AAFC scientists, the US market was reopened to potatoes from PEI only a few months after potato wart was first found.
It's no wonder that scientists from around the world come to ECORC to use and learn from the collections in order to support and advance their own investigations and pursuits.