New horizons on biodiversity

MARCH 24, 2008: There will be a host of new threats and opportunities for UK biodiversity as technologies develop, according to a group of 35 environmental scientists.

Artificial life forms, robots that mimic natural processes, and even people who spend all day in front of the computer and rarely experience the real outdoors, may all affect the quality of nature in Britain over the next 45 years, they say.The scientists, drawn from the government as well as colleges and charities, have drawn up a list of 25 factors, including the rising demand for food and biofuels, thought to be having an immediate effect. These, they say, are already putting increased pressure on the habitats of birds and mammals.Others factors, such as sea-level rise, extra fire risk and extreme weather events are looming with climate change.But many more challenges, identified in the "horizon-scanning" report, come from what now appears science fiction. Environmental manipulation could be a quick-fix way to mitigate climate change, scientists say. Putting trillions of lenses in orbit to deflect the sun's energy, building giant mirrors in space, fertilising oceans with iron filings and laying reflective covers on deserts, have all been suggested, says the paper in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.The paper's authors do not try to judge the ideas or even predict any follow-up. However, they say the public reaction to GM food, in particular, has taught them to look ahead to what society is likely to consider important.