London, March 20 : Researchers, policymakers and environmental campaigners have identified 25 potential future threats to the environment, which they believe should be focused upon.
According to a report in New Scientist, William Sutherland, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK, led a series of horizon-scanning workshops where the threats where highlighted.
Sutherland said that they were convened in order to give researchers the opportunity to assess environmental threats before they become a political and social problem.
In addition to well-publicised risks such as toxic nanomaterials, the acidification of the ocean and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the list includes some more outlandish possibilities.
Some of the possibilities include: biomimetic robots that could become new invasive species; experiments involving climate engineering, for instance ocean 'fertilisation' and deploying solar shields; increased demand for the biomass needed to make biofuel; disruption to marine ecosystems caused by offshore power generation; and, experiments to control invasive species using genetically engineered viruses.
Some of the threats identified are more speculative, such as robots that imitate animal behaviour and microbes made from synthetic molecules. If these forms of artificial intelligence are released into the wild they might eventually behave like invasive species, the group warns.
According to Matt Walker, a science writer involved with the project, the purpose of the exercise was to raise awareness.
"The more into the future you try to look, the more uncertain it gets, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take such threats seriously," he told New Scientist. "It's important to look beyond the immediate well-known threats and try to predict the next great challenge to biodiversity," he added.