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Mining With Principles by using DNA sequencing to monitor plant biodiversity in the Amazon

Healthy ecosystems are essential for the health and wellbeing of all life on Earth, but they are deteriorating more rapidly than ever. ICMM members implement innovative restoration techniques to address impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, supporting nature’s recovery. 

The Amazon Basin is one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet. Beyond its dense rainforests, the region has many ironstone outcrops, mostly within the territory of the Serra dos Carajás, Brazil. This area comprises one of the largest iron ore reserves on the planet, sitting below vegetation locally known as cangas.

Mining activities have been developed in this region since the discovery of these reserves in the late 1970s. ICMM Member Vale has conducted inventories of plant biodiversity in the area over the last 10 years, culminating in a genetic reference library for the complete flora of the ironstone outcrops of the Serra dos Carajás, the first of its kind for the Amazon basin.

The library was able to be created through an innovative process of DNA barcoding of soil samples. This enabled Vale to determine difficult to identify species, and provide an objective, deep, and rapid assessment of the areas influenced by mining activities. The library helped better describe the flora in the area by aiding the identification of plants in traditional monitoring practices, allowing for better decision making to support mining development with biodiversity in mind.

Conservation data is maintained in international standard formats and has proven cost effective, as well as decreasing the safety risks involved with, and time spent on, fieldwork. The library is now able to support biodiversity initiatives at the site and in the region, as well as support monitoring methods based on the DNA present in the environment (eDNA).