While success in curbing global warming can be measured in terms of reductions in planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions, understanding what advances in biodiversity protection mean for governments and companies tends to be more complex.

“You can’t actually measure ecosystem health just by monitoring what you can see,” said NatureMetrics CEO Katie Critchlow.

Using environmental DNA, or “eDNA”, NatureMetrics says it can gather more biodiversity data far faster than traditional surveys, including the presence of IUCN Red List species.

This can be tracked by small DNA filters. Water from an ecosystem is pushed by a syringe through the small discs, which are then sent to specialist labs in Britain and Canada, much like DNA tests to find out people’s ancestry.

NatureMetrics, which has grown to more than 140 employees, serves NGOs and companies that are either looking to monitor progress in restoring a degraded ecosystem or measure whether development projects like mining are causing harm.

“All of a sudden, now you can know whether things are getting better or not – and that’s just not been possible before,” said Critchlow.

“We feel that this is quite revolutionary.”


The eDNA method is just one of a number of innovative new techniques, said Karl Burkart, co-founder and deputy director of US-based non-profit One Earth, which is working to scale up biodiversity mapping technologies.

“In the next three to five years, we’re going to have a lot of breakthroughs in direct observation measuring,” he said.

For example, tiny cameras have been trained with artificial intelligence to collect and interpret what they capture in the field, such as detecting humans and different animal species.

TrailGuard AI, created by the NGO Resolve and chipmaker Intel, is developing this technology to create an alert system against animal poachers in Africa.

Another approach is acoustic sensors, which can monitor sounds from species like birds and even insects, and is an “incredibly effective” way of determining the overall health of an ecosystem, Burkart said.

Some forests may look good from satellite images, for example – but inside, their biodiversity can be severely degraded, a phenomenon known as “zombie forests”, he explained.

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