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Study Identifies 15 Top Threats to Biodiversity

'Most of the effects we have on the natural environment continue to give rise to negative consequences for biodiversity.'

- Beth Brogan, staff writer

Widespread development of nuclear power and seabed-located oil drilling are among the top 15 threats to biodiversity in 2013, according to a new study published this month in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

(Photo: OEEarth.org) "A horizon scan of global conservation issues for 2013" seeks to identify the top concerns for 2013—in particular, "developments that have not yet risen into the popular consciousness," in order to help experts predict and react to them.

Known as "horizon scanning," the process "can be useful to avoid situations where we’re ill-prepared to deal with the consequences," Professor Bill Sutherland of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, lead author of the study, told the National Environment Research Council, which co-funded the study. "One example is biofuels. They were promised to be a green alternative to fossil fuels, but no-one anticipated that pristine rainforest would be cleared for them."

Nineteen experts submitted 75 "little-known issues" that could positively or negatively affect biodiversity in the near future, and that list was culled to the following 15:

  1. Widespread development of thorium-fueled nuclear power
  2. Seabed located oil drilling and processing
  3. Accelerating water cycle
  4. Proliferation of hydropower in the Andean Amazon
  5. Species loss as a driver of global environmental change
  6. Vegetarian aquaculture feed
  7. Rapid rise in global demand for coconut water
  8. Rapid growth of concentrated solar power
  9. Detecting aquatic species with environmental DNA
  10. Use of coral nurseries for reef restoration
  11. Forest conservation and restoration by micro unmanned aerial vehicles
  12. The 3D printing revolution
  13. A link between biodiversity, allergy and autoimmune disease
  14. The commercial use of antimicrobial peptides
  15. Synthetic genetics

Sutherland said of the issues:

Many of them relate to new forms of energy production, changes in how we produce or store food, and synthetic biology – the creation of new forms of life in the lab. Most sit squarely in the ‘threat’ camp, but a few could be seen as opportunities that might end up benefiting the diversity of life on Earth.

Another co-author, Professor Michael Depledge from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health, notes, "It is perhaps telling however, that most of the effects we have on the natural environment continue to give rise to negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services."

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