Conference plenary – Louis Bernatchez

Today’s conference plenary sneak preview was written by Louis Bernatchez.

Louis BernatchezLouis  is an evolutionary biologist specialised in genomics, conservation, and evolution of fishes in the Department of Biology at Laval University, Québec. He holds a Canadian Research Chair in genomics and conservation of aquatic resources and has received several prestigious awards, including the Prix du Québec Marie-Victorin, elected member of the Royal Society of Canada, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the E.W.R. Steacie award (NSERC), the Michel-Jurdant Award (ACFAS), and the Stevenson Lecturer of the Canadian Conference for Fisheries Research. He co-founded and is currently the chief-editor of the journal Evolutionary Applications and has also been Associate Editor with Molecular Ecology for the last 15 years. He is a co-founder of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution and served this Society as Treasurer for its first 5 years of existence. He has published over 300 research articles, with several important contributions to DNA barcoding of North American freshwater fishes.

The majority of the research projects conducted in my laboratory is integrated into the research program of the Canada Research Chair Genomics and Conservation of Aquatic Resources.  We aim to accomplish three general objectives.

The first objective is to acquire fundamental knowledge on evolutionary processes responsible for generating and maintaining genetic diversity within and among populations. This will in turn stimulate the long term economic viability and social value of aquatic species in three complementary domains of activity : recreational and commercial exploitation (fisheries), biodiversity conservation, and aquaculture. The second general objective is to foster the training of highly qualified biologists, researchers, and research professionals in areas of high priority for Canada. A third objective is to increase the public awareness of the usefulness university scientific research (both basic and applied) regarding the improvement of management and conservation practices of natural populations.

The most distinctive character of our research projects lies in the integrative approach that combines the fields of quantitative and functional genomics, population genomics, bioinformatics, physiology and ecology within an evolutionary framework. The integrative nature of these projects is also reflected by the diversity of their topics. For instance, the current issues surrounding fisheries, aquaculture and biodiversity conservation are generally considered distinct with few common links between them. Such a view has most often been a source of conflict among the people that work or research these areas. In contrast, the view that we are promoting through the research chair program lies on the assumption that these three sectors are facing a common problem, which is the genetic erosion of genetic diversity, as well as incomplete knowledge of the fundamental processes that generate and maintain genetic diversity.

A main research area of our current research projects focuses on the comprehension of genotype-environment interactions, particularly in cases of reproductively isolated populations that have diverged to exploit distinct ecological resources. Our principal study systems include lacustrine fish populations (whitefish, genus Coregonus, Salmonidae) that have recently diverged and vary with respect to their level of reproductive isolation in relation to their level of specialization towards distinct ecological niches. A second main area is to comprehend the respective roles and impact of historical, contemporary and anthropogenic factors (such as exploitation, stocking, translocation, domestication and habitat disturbances) on the genetic diversity of animal populations, as well as the genetic basis of local adaptation.

We have also contributed to the Canadian Barcode of Life Network initiative. A new exciting field of application that is currently being investigated pertains to the analysis of environmental DNA (eDNA) towards keeping track of biological invasion, monitor community diversity in aquatic habitats, as well as quantifying biomass in a fishery management context.