The Cambridge Conservation Initiative has been organizing an annual horizon scan since 2009. This is an established method for identifying the threats, changes, and innovations that will have the greatest influence on biological conservation in the upcoming year. A total of 31 scientists, practitioners, and policymakers participated in this year’s 15th Horizon Scanning, which produced a list of 96 issues that they later whittled down to the 15 most innovative and significant.
Their research, which was published on December 18th, 2023 in the journal Trends in Evolution & Ecology, covers issues including dwindling invertebrate populations, shifting marine habitats, and sustainable energy.
The scan revealed fifteen topics, including:
- Novel hydrogen sources for energy generation, such as seawater electrolysis.
- Decarbonized ammonia synthesis employing nitrogen, graphite mesh, and water microdroplets for fuel and fertilizer.
- Using autotrophic hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria to produce fish-like nutrients for food and animal feed.
- Urban indoor agriculture employing artificial photosynthesis without light.
- Overuse of rock dust to remineralize significant quantities of carbon exposes ecosystems to heavy metal pollution.
- Earthworm populations will likely continue to decline, possibly as a result of pesticide use, particularly in agricultural and broadleaved woodland environments.
- With the ability to simulate water flowing through soil, soil ecoacoustics is well-positioned to assist in the monitoring of soil ecology and invertebrate populations.
- Wildfires could release stored aerosols and alter climatic patterns similar to El Niño.
- Benchtop DNA printers are becoming more sophisticated, common, and require regulation since they can print double-stranded DNA sequences on demand.
- Novel techniques to assess a chemical’s toxicity before negative effects manifest.
- The projected “sustainable” ultra-tall skyscraper metropolis in Saudi Arabia will affect migratory birds.
- Sea urchin populations will continue to decline quickly around the globe, possibly as a result of a protist infection that might endanger tropical ecosystems.
- Testing techniques such as macroalgae, rock injections, and ocean fertilization to extract carbon dioxide from the ocean.
- Twilight zone temperatures rising to disrupt the ocean’s biological carbon pump.
- Melting Antarctic ice will change deep-sea ocean currents, resulting in a 40% decrease in abyssal overturning by 2050.
The study authors, led by conservationist William Sutherland, added, “The issues identified in this scan continue to reflect the juxtaposition between anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity and increasing technological capacity to mitigate those impacts. In some cases, new issues arise directly from efforts to mitigate other issues.”
Threats to marine ecosystems are among the most prevalent issues that authors find in the list of problems. Although they point out that these measures will not help alleviate the stated climate-related challenges, they emphasize how important current maritime policy actions are in helping to address these risks. They also talk about how crucial innovation in carbon capture and renewable energy technology is going to be in the future.
The researchers concluded, “We anticipate continuing to highlight novel emerging impacts of climate change and technologies aiming to mitigate climate change and transition to more sustainable pathways in future horizon scans.”
Sutherland, W. J., et. al. (2023) A horizon scan of global biological conservation issues for 2024. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2023.11.001