The 15 trends that have been revealed will significantly affect biodiversity, plants, animals and ecosystems in both negative and positive ways during the course of 2019.
The topics identified in the 10th annual ‘Horizon Scan of Emerging Issues for Global Conservation‘ are getting relatively little attention in the world of conservation thus far, but will have a big impact on biodiversity and associated areas of significance.
The annual Horizon Scan exercise is one in which emerging issues, potentially affecting global biodiversity & conservation efforts, are identified, discussed and published. It serves as an attempt to look into the future and prepare for both the good and the bad.
William Sutherland, professor of Conservation Biology at Cambridge University UK and an academic committed to identifying future environmental threats, led the team/authors of 28 experts and environmental scientists.
The findings are hoped to inform researchers, funding bodies, policy makers, regulatory bodies and conservation organisations resulting in improved understanding and greater awareness on the issues.
One of the top trending topics includes an extensive release of the highly toxic element mercury by thawing permafrost. Mercury is incredibly harmful to humans and animals, having an aggressive and deterioration effect on the brain and reproductive system, and alters the function of plants and microbes. Recent studies have indicated much higher levels of mercury present than was previously thought, which would result in negative effects on aquatic and terrestrial food chains as the element is transported from soil, via streams and rivers to our oceans.
Results from the previous years Horizon Scan 2018 include discussions on the breaks in the dormancy of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in thawing permafrost. As our climate warms and permafrost melts embedded viruses and bacteria are released into the atmosphere. A recent example of this was the release of anthrax bacteria from a thawing reindeer carcass during a heatwave in 2016 in Siberia. The carcass was approximately 75 years frozen but viable pathogens have been discovered from 30,000 years ago sparking fears of population-threatening epidemics.
Recently the negative effects of conventional sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate on coral reefs including coral reef bleaching were discovered. This has led to an alternative UV light absorber called Shinorine to be produced. Shinorine, however, is known to have inflammatory effects in humans and the potential effects on marine life are not yet known or identified.
Other topics discussed include US regulations on gene editing, the ecological effects of alternatives to plastic, Modification of weather in the Tibetan Plateau by cloud seeding and more. It makes for fascinating, if slightly challenging reading, but don’t let that be a deterrent. The full Horizon scan, as originally published, is now available to read in full.