Horizon scanning for urban ecosystems

Stanley, M.C., Beggs, J.R., Bassett, I.E., Burns, B.R., Dirks, K.N., Jones, D.N., Linklater, W.L., Macinnis-Ng, C., Simcock, R., Souter-Brown, G., Trowsdale, S.A. & Gaston, K.J. (2015) Emerging threats in urban ecosystems: a horizon scanning exercise. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13(10): 553–560. (Image from Shutterstock) shutterstock_115045105

As urbanization intensifies, urban ecosystems are increasingly under pressure from a range of threats. Horizon scanning has the potential to act as an early warning system, thereby initiating prompt discussion and decision making about threat mitigation. We undertook a systematic horizon scanning exercise, using a modified Delphi technique and experts from wide-ranging disciplines, to identify emerging threats in urban ecosystems. The 10 identified threats were generally associated with rapid advances in technology (eg solar panels, light-emitting diode lights, self-healing concrete) or with societal demands on urban nature (eg green prescriptions). Although many of the issues identified are also technological opportunities with recognized environmental benefits, we have highlighted emerging risks so that research and mitigation strategies can be initiated promptly. Given the accelerated rate of technological advancement and the increasing demands of urbanized populations, horizon scanning should be conducted routinely for urban ecosystems.