Cutting-edge biotechnology, implemented by Anglo American to radically change the way biodiversity risks are evaluated and monitored at operations, has delivered the “best invertebrate data produced to date, using eDNA”, says Dr Vere Ross-Gillespie, Head of Extractives at NatureMetrics.
NatureMetrics’ environmental DNA (eDNA) tools were first piloted by Anglo American in South Africa, with, NatureMetrics says, impressive early results.
And now more recent research at the Woodsmith polyhalite project in the UK has produced one of the “most comprehensive invertebrate datasets to date”, Vere says.
Warwick Mostert, Principal Biodiversity at Anglo American, added: “We knew that eDNA can deliver big data and this just goes to show what can be done with such a quick, safe and simple sampling approach. We can’t wait to see the results from other sites.”
The eDNA technology works by identifying genetic material – a fingerprint specific to each species – left behind by animals and organisms as they interact with their environment. Samples taken from water, sediment or soil are sequenced and compared with reference libraries, through a process called metabarcoding, identifying which species they come from.
Unlike conventional methods of surveying biodiversity on a site, eDNA can identify hundreds of species from different taxonomic groups from a single sample, while being quicker and safer to undertake in the field, the company claims.
The technology is already helping Anglo American, across business units globally, to measure the journey to delivering positive biodiversity outcomes and achieve the target of net positive impact on diversity, as outlined in its Sustainable Mining Plan, according to NatureMetrics.
In partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and NatureMetrics, the data collected from Woodsmith and other selected sites will be fed into the eBioAtlas program, creating a global database to support conservation efforts and inform international biodiversity policy.
Katie Critchlow, NatureMetrics CEO, said: “Anglo American is one of the first of our clients to roll out our DNA-based biodiversity monitoring solutions across multiple global operations. We are delighted to be working with a company that has made a public commitment to having a net positive impact on biodiversity and to be working with them to back that up with a meaningful measurement program.
“Our cutting-edge environmental DNA technology will provide the comprehensive biodiversity data that will help Anglo American on their journey to improving, measuring and reporting their nature impacts.”
NatureMetrics says the samples from Woodsmith – including those first taken by Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive, and Siobhan Grafton, Group Head of Sustainable Development – identified a staggering 522 distinct taxa representing 100 families of invertebrates. Of these close to 58% were identified to species level.
The vertebrate data set is also impressive, with more than 67 taxa detected of which approximately 62% were identified to species level, NatureMetrics said.
More than 500 aquatic insect species were mapped, giving an important and sensitive baseline measure of biodiversity and ecosystem condition, from which change can be monitored in future years.
Vere says the baseline “will help to inform Anglo American’s water quality and biodiversity monitoring at the site, while also contributing to efforts to achieve overall net positive impact moving forward”.
Sampling at the pilot sites will continue into 2022 and results will help paint a more comprehensive picture to drive Anglo American’s biodiversity decision making, according to NatureMetrics.
Cutifani said: “This is wonderful news; the sheer breadth of data which has been provided by these few samples we took at Woodsmith are precisely why we take our responsibility to the environment and biodiversity very seriously. Only by understanding the wildlife which thrives around our operations can we ensure that not only do we minimise impact on existing areas of biodiversity, but that we nurture and attract new species to make a positive contribution to the planet.”