Cath Tayleur on why measuring biodiversity is one of the key levers for regenerative agriculture

Cath Tayleur, Head of Nature Positive Supply Chains in NatureMetrics joins us for a discussion of environmental DNA (eDNA) and its implications in biodiversity, as well as the other steps we’re yet to take in transitioning to regenerative agriculture.


Imagine, if you could, with a single or a few samples of water collected downstream, in a watershed, map all of the biodiversity in that watershed. Instead of sending teams to survey the different bird species, placing camera traps, hoping that you capture these crucial species, you can use environmental DNA to map all of these species from bacteria to blue whales. If you do that regularly, you can actually see if the biodiversity is increasing or decreasing. This is already possible around mining areas and conservation areas. 

Now, imagine applying this to landscapes full of agriculture. What happens if we add soil sampling- and even more cutting edge and air sampling- to monitor the biodiversity in a landscape?

The Role of NatureMetrics 

Through its DNA-based monitoring systems, NatureMetrics work with different sectors such as mining, property development, and infrastructures to study biodiversity and its operational impacts. NatureMetrics’ strategy in measuring biodiversity is much more cost and time-efficient as well as accessible and usable to those who need the results (i.e. local communities, farmers, etc.). All in all, NatureMetrics gets rid of the need for companies to send out a big group of technical experts to the field as the process could be as simple as taking a sample and bringing it to NatureMetrics’ lab. 

“We see in the space of corporates and biodiversity, the extractive sector, for example, is quite well advanced on how they measure their impacts on biodiversity. That’s partly because they make a lot of money out of a small area of land.” – Cath Tayleur

NatureMetrics’ Environmental DNA (eDNA) 

Because of the power of technology, other ways to measure biodiversity have emerged (bioacoustics, remote sensing, etc.). However, environmental DNA (eDNA) is proving to be holding a lot of promise in comparison to others as eDNA can actually detect even the littlest of species, which helps give an ‘unbiased’ view of the whole ecosystem. Cath believes that eDNA, if done with the right questions and goals in mind, can be a very reliable way to scale how we measure biodiversity today. 

“Whilst those charismatic species are the things that we really connect to and think about when we think about nature, they’re not necessarily the biodiversity that’s fundamental to a functioning ecosystem.” – Cath Tayleur

Environmental DNA in Action 

One good example to prove the power of eDNA is how it has become much easier to track the existence of pygmy, a tiny hippopotamus in West Africa. Because it is such a rare and endangered species, some people aren’t even familiar with it. Pygmies are extremely hard to find and trap even with the use of expensive cameras, but, with eDNA, their traces can easily be found everywhere. With eDNA, unlike the traditional means to measure biodiversity, it’s less likely for scientists to miss ‘non-charismatic’ species (especially the tiny ones like microbes) that are often overlooked. Being able to scrutinize species as basic as soil microbiomes will help us understand the soil better, which ultimately results in much more effective regenerative practices. 

“Within NatureMetrics, we have a fantastic team of data scientists who are working on amazing modeling techniques, which help translate their samples into what is the likelihood that we missed a species that was actually there.” – Cath Tayleur

Agriculture: An Emerging Space 

We need to come up with a scalable monitoring system in the agricultural space. As there are thousands of each species (if not more), translating the data we gathered into readable metrics is the way to put the data into the context of agricultural space. 

Cath also emphasized the role of agriculture-dependent corporations and how they should be translating their commitments into actions that would really help those in the field. For example, instead of farmers shouldering the measurement costs, investors should shoulder the costs for them. Once the support is there, we can work on eventually streamlining measurements as part of the production process.

“Rather than having the onus on an individual farmer to fund the measurement approach himself, we look at the bigger picture, we get people to co-invest in the measurement. We look at measuring those outcomes at a much larger scale.” – Cath Tayleur

Other Points Discussed 

Koen and Cath also talked about: 

  • Building good partnerships;
  • Investing in farmers;
  • Investing in innovation;
  • Having a global map we can use for monitoring regions around the world;
  • The potential of technologies in monitoring.

To know more about Cath Tayleur and NatureMetrics, download and listen to this episode. 




Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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