The eBioAtlas programme will target areas threatened by climate change and development, and rapidly fill critical knowledge gaps to support conservation efforts, unlock business investment to protect the natural world, and build a rich databank to inform global policy to reverse the rapid decline in biodiversity.
IUCN and on-the-ground implementing partners will work together with local stakeholders and citizen scientists to conduct the eDNA sampling, with 30,000 eDNA samples expected to be collected from rivers and wetlands around the world during the first three years. The priority will be to survey areas of critical conservation importance, including major river basins such as the Amazon, Ganges, Mekong Delta, and the Niger Delta. Over 1,000 people in Africa, Asia and Latin America will be trained to carry out eDNA sampling during the first three years. In the more wealthy nations, a citizen science approach will be used to gather samples.
We are delighted that Fauna and Flora International will become the programme’s first major implementing partner, facilitating sampling across many areas of Africa and beyond. Meanwhile, a grant from the FootPrint Coalition (founded by actor Robert Downey Jr) enables sampling to be kick-started in the Malagarasi-Muyovosi wetlands in Tanzania, in partnership with the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute.
Samples will be analysed by NatureMetrics following a standardised protocol, with an initial focus on communities of fish, mammals and other vertebrates.
Urgent action is needed to protect the world’s biodiversity, but there is limited knowledge about the status and distribution of the species on Earth. Building a clearer picture is vital for raising conservation funding, targeting action effectively and measuring progress.
“eDNA is a game changer because it allows surveys to be done much faster and it has the potential to pick up much more information than through conventional sampling,” said Will Darwall, Head of IUCN’s Freshwater Biodiversity Unit. “A third of the world’s freshwater fish are threatened. If nothing changes in the way, we manage freshwater environments these species are headed for extinction. We need a full-scale bio-blitz using eDNA to rapidly get new and updated information about where freshwater fish live all over the world so we can bring it into the mainstream of conservation and environmental management and policy efforts.”
NatureMetrics will supply the eBioAtlas programme with easy-to-use sampling kits which allow non-specialists to collect high-quality eDNA samples across the globe. All they need to do is pump water by hand through a filter to extract traces of DNA and record their field data on a mobile app. The NatureMetrics eDNA kits stabilise the DNA in a preservative solution so it can be posted to NatureMetrics labs for sequencing, and then be matched against species data held in DNA reference libraries.
NatureMetrics and IUCN intend for eBioAtlas to become self-financing over time, with businesses paying to access its data and funding long-term monitoring of areas that are important to their operations or supply chain. We are now jointly approaching funders as well as conservation organisation partners that can help implement the sampling. Where possible they will seek to integrate with existing conservation projects to build up a broad picture quickly and cost-effectively.
Dr Kat Bruce, NatureMetrics founder said: “eDNA is totally transformative. It’s a tool we can put in the hands of ordinary people all over the world to capture biodiversity data at a previously unthinkable scale – and from those simple water samples, we will generate the knowledge base that can underpin effective action for the protection and restoration of nature. Nothing is more important.”
To learn more more about eBioAtlas and how you can get involved, visit www.ebioatlas.org and follow our progress on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter using the @eBioAtlas handle.
NatureMetrics releases a guide on eDNA-powered nature intelligence in coastal ecosystems at COP28. The guide highlights the role of coastal ecosystems in climate change mitigation and conservation, and the potential of eDNA technology to monitor biodiversity.