Sampling from kayaks
BRT5’s Environmental DNA study 

One thing that makes BRT different from other river conservation projects is how we combine adventure sports to science and nature conservation to expose the problem of dams, give a voice to the rivers and those fighting for them and also work towards solutions and alternatives.

So, we are excited to announce that during BRT5, we will be performing an exciting environmental DNA study (eDNA)*, using this cutting-edge technology with the help of some of the most renowned ichthyology experts in the field, to do the following…

  • Create the first ever complete eDNA sampling of the Sava River.
  • Deliver a map of the presence of at least 25 fish species along the Sava River.
  • Comparative study of fish biodiversity levels in reservoirs and free flowing stretches.
  • Article(s) published in renown academic journals.
  • Uniting fish experts from SLO, CRO, BiH and SRB + rest of the Europe with the goal of providing data to help fight the proposed dams.
  • Bridge the gap between science, activism and nature conservation and expose this in mainstream local, national and international media.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a modern research technique performed by molecular biologists. During Balkan Rivers Tour 5 between April 24th and June 1st (Details and full program here), our BRT5 team will take eDNA samples from strategic and pre determined locations along the entire 1.000 km length of the Sava River. This will be done from the seat of our kayaks, pumping water through special filters to catch fragments of organic matter, which will later be used to identify DNA present in that body of water. After the tour, experts will analyze the samples checking for presence of endangered and Natura 2000 species (for instance Danube salmon Hucho hucho and sturgeon species from genus Acipenser), which will help us to be actively involved in the legal processes for protecting the Sava River and tributaries in the follow up phase of Balkan Rivers Tour 5.

We have pulled together an impressive crew of internationally recognized experts who have come together to make up our team, leading the design of the study as well as the data analysis and follow-up. They are Aleš Snoj (fish conservation geneticist, University of Ljubljana), David Stanković (eDNA expert from Slovenian National Institute for Biology) and Nejc Bravničar (Ph.D. student at University of Ljubljana, using genomic data for conservation purposes). Outside advisor, Stephen Weiss (one of the most renown salmonid ichthyologists in Europe, University of Graz, Austria) will also be involved and the team is in touch with fish experts from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia which are helping them with their experience from the field to determine which parts of the river to take samples for in order to be the most representative.

The findings from our resarch will be made available to any NGO, students or researchers who are working towards the protection of the Sava catchment. Our intention is that this study will help small, local NGO’s by providing a base line of data that can be used as the foundation for further, in depth research to create more Natura 2000 sites, parks and protected areas and stop the construction of dams.

The act of paddling an entire river makes BRT5 a unique vehicle for scientific studies. And it’s going to be pretty fun too.