eDNA growing as key tool to support biodiversity credit market

Published 00:12 on March 31, 2023  /  Last updated at 00:12 on March 31, 2023  / Katherine Monahan /  Biodiversity

Project developers are already turning to environmental DNA (eDNA) for data they need to generate biodiversity credits, supported by today’s availability of easy-to-use kits and tailored analytical offerings.

Project developers are already turning to environmental DNA (eDNA) for data they need to generate biodiversity credits, supported by today’s availability of easy-to-use kits and tailored analytical offerings.

All life on earth leaves tiny traces of environmental DNA (eDNA) that can be collected through simple and non-invasive soil and water sampling, a webinar hosted by biodiversity data provider NatureMetrics heard Thursday.

For several years, scientists have used eDNA to detect endangered or otherwise important wildlife, particularly when it is difficult to observe through other techniques such as camera traps – think of flying squirrels for example, which are notoriously hard to find and even harder to photograph.

But now the practice is being increasingly promoted as a way to measure the uplift in biodiversity from projects and other activities – generating quantifiable and verifiable results that are likely to be in high demand as the nascent biodiversity market grows.

“We have found ways to convert the complex web of life into simple and meaningful metrics,” said Stefanie Kaiser, head of nature-based solutions at NatureMetrics.

“Now you don’t have to go out into the field and do one survey for one type of animal, and then go out again and do another survey for invertebrates, for example, as it’s hard and costly enough just to do one field survey,” she said.

“Why not just go out once, and tick several boxes at the same time instead.”


NatureMetrics has been providing eDNA services for over five years, and has facilitated data collection in over 92 countries.

The company provides standard sample collection kits to their clients, where soil and water samples are then sent back to their laboratories in the UK and Canada.

The service is already being used by actors interested in generating biodiversity credits in the emerging market, including project developer rePlanet, who is using the service to help measure improvements in its grassland restoration project in Transylvania.

“To enable the success of biodiversity markets, we need a consistent robust data foundation, and eDNA can provide this data foundation,” Kaiser said.

RePlanet is collecting samples of soil and insect trappings that are then used to generate eDNA data and analysis to increase the accuracy of invertebrate identification.

The initial list of invertebrates detected in the project area can be used as a baseline, while additions to the list over time would indicate improving ecosystem health as the grassland is recovered.

The eDNA findings, along with other data, will feed into the “basket of metrics” methodology that rePlanet is using to measure its project impacts, and eventually issue biodiversity credits.

The methodology, first developed by research group Wallacea Trust, requires project developers to choose at least five metrics that are relevant to biodiversity within a project area.

The metrics may be chosen based on what makes the most sense for the particular project, and can include issues such as total species richness or improved fungi presence in soil.

The detection of fungal species, for example, is important to demonstrate regenerative practices in forest and agriculture projects, where fungi richness is likely to be lowest in degraded sites or commercial monocultures.

Standard setter Plan Vivo released its draft biodiversity standard for public consultation in February using the basket of metrics approach.

Once the protocol is finalised – potentially before year-end – Plan Vivo intends to issue biodiversity credits representing a 1% increase, or avoided loss, in the median value of the basket of metrics, per hectare.


Although many observers may associate eDNA with complex or futuristic science, the process of eDNA sampling is fairly straightforward and often more cost-effective than traditional sampling methods, Thursday’s webinar heard.

NatureMetrics’ offerings include the conversion of eDNA data into insights that can be tailored towards specific species or other targeted areas.

Kaiser said that her company can produce reports on specific endangered species, for example, or help identify the prevalence of sensitive species in mangroves.

“If you have eDNA as kind of a comprehensive and consistent data foundation, you can then use other methods on top,” she added, pointing to the importance of complementary data collection practices, such as satellite imagery or bioacoustics.

Meanwhile, public eDNA databases are beginning to scale up, which can be used by researchers and other stakeholders to share and explore data, but can also help provide information to establish area baselines and reference levels.

New venture New Atlantis, for example, aims to maintain and continuously improve a robust platform for eDNA data in marine protected areas, hoping to see the initiative scale up as global scientists continue to contribute bioinformatics.


Building a strong data foundation is essential to many projects, including carbon projects, biodiversity projects, and other initiatives targeting ecosystem services.

Okala, based out of Gabon and Scotland, aims to create connected landscapes for environmental investment, and helps design technologies to scale-up biodiversity monitoring in these areas.

The company is using eDNA approaches to help measure and better understand biodiversity – from microbes to mammals – in tropical landscapes that can cover millions of hectares.

“eDNA definitely adds value to our projects in terms of traceable, verifiable, trustworthy data … and investors really like it,” said Robin Whytock, CEO and head of science at Okala.

Whytock pointed to the example of better biodiversity outcomes emerging from afforestation projects that use diverse and native tree species.

“eDNA can provide evidence to support this fact … Now we have data to show that we are a premium company planting the right tree in the right place,” he said.

Meanwhile, reforestation company Land Life leverages funding for projects that are rebuilding ecosystems, describing themselves as front runners in applying biodiversity metrics to reforestation.

Land Life is piloting a project with NatureMetrics to demonstrate “robust” and “practical” methods of detecting a project’s impact on biodiversity.

“For us, eDNA is a very interesting, robust, practical, and a relatively cheap method of having something tangible that we can go and present to our customers,” said Arnout Asjes, CTO of Land Life.

“Really the journey has just started, and we are very excited.”

By Katherine Monahan – katherine@carbon-pulse.com

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