SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  15 August 2013
Volume 14 Issue 8

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SETAC Launches Global Horizon Scanning/Research Prioritization Project

Bryan Brooks, Baylor University, Gerald Ankley, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Alistair Boxall, University of York and Murray Rudd, University of York

The SETAC World Council is pleased to announce the initiation of a Global Horizon Scanning and Prioritization Project aimed at identifying geographically specific research needs to address stressor impacts on environmental quality. In recent years, horizon scanning and research prioritization activities1-5 have identified major national and international research needs in conservation biology6-9, agriculture10 and water management11. Such prioritization efforts employ a “key questions” model5 in which research questions are submitted by scientists working in various sectors and capacities, followed by expert workshops. Two years ago, the SETAC Global Pharmaceuticals Advisory Group initiated a key questions activity from which a top 20 list of research questions was identified to better understand risks of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment. This activity culminated with a multi-sector workshop, the output of which was recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives12. Because this paper provides the first balanced perspective of its type, it is already having broad impact.

In the new exercise, priority research questions will be solicited from SETAC members and other environmental professionals within the five SETAC geographical regions, then synthesized by expert teams of academic, business and government representatives to form lists of the top research questions that, if answered, would substantially advance our understanding of how a range of environmental stressors (chemical, physical, biological) impact environmental quality in different geographic regions. Questions will be scientific in orientation and can cover any aspect of fields related to environmental toxicology and chemistry [e.g., chemical fate and transport; methods of chemical analysis; different biomes (freshwater, terrestrial, marine); natural (e.g., algal toxins) and man-made (e.g., pesticides) chemicals; chemical/non-chemical (e.g., climate change) interactions; ecological and human health outcomes; affected populations; susceptible ecoregions and resources; uncertainties in risk assessment; environmental management approaches; etc.].

Following the five geographic exercises, priority research questions from each geographic unit will be examined during global workshops, again with balanced representation from academic, business and government sectors. During these global workshops, priority research needs will be identified and ranked by participants. These top research questions will then be submitted to SETAC and the broader scientific community for further ranking and prioritization. Outcomes from this project will be disseminated through SETAC forums, including publications in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management. The resulting list of top global research needs will be launched at the 7th SETAC World Congress, scheduled for November 2016, in Orlando, Fla., USA. SETAC plans to disseminate these top geographic and global priorities to policymakers, research agencies, industry and the scientific community. It is anticipated that this effort will help increase the quality and relevance of environmental research, decrease scientific uncertainty in assessing and managing environmental risks, and increase the credibility of technical and policy responses to global environmental stressors.

SETAC, a leading global environmental science organization, is uniquely positioned with geographic units in Africa, Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America to undertake this robust activity, which will be unprecedented in the history of environmental science. The project team includes Bryan Brooks in the Department of Environmental Science at Baylor University, Gary Ankley at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Murray Rudd and Alistair Boxall in the Environmental Department at the University of York. In addition to identifying critical areas of need, it is expected that outcomes of this activity will directly support strategic long-range planning of SETAC, while providing sound, science-based approaches to identify a framework of consensus research priorities of importance to geographically implicit and global scales13. The Global Horizon Scanning and Research Prioritization Project will be launched in September 2013 during the during the 6th SETAC Africa Conference in Lusaka, Zambia.


  1. Reid WV, Chen D, Goldfarb L, Hackmann H, Lee YT, Mokhele K, Ostrom E, Raivio K, Rockström J, Schellnhuber HJ, Whyte A. 2010. Earth system science for global sustainability: Grand challenges. Science 330: 916–917.
  2. Sutherland WJ, Woodroof HJ. 2009. The need for environmental horizon scanning. Trends Ecol Evol 24: 523–527.
  3. Amanatidou E, Butter M, Carabias V, Könnölä T, Leis M, Saritas O, Schaper‐Rinkel P, van Rij V. 2012. On concepts and methods in horizon scanning: Lessons from initiating policy dialogues on emerging issues. Sci Public Pol 39: 208–221.
  4. Rudd MA. 2011. How research‐prioritization exercises affect conservation policy. Conserv Biol 25: 860–866.
  5. Sutherland WJ, Fleishman E, Mascia MB, Pretty J, Rudd MA. 2011. Methods for collaboratively identifying research priorities and emerging issues in science and policy. Methods Ecol Evol 2:238–247.
  6. Sutherland WJ, Armstrong‐Brown S, Armsworth PR, Tom B, Brickland J, Campbell CD, Chamberlain DE, Cooke AI, Dulvy NK, Dusic NR, et al. 2006. The identification of 100 ecological questions of high policy relevance in the UK. J Appl Ecol 43:617–627.
  7. Sutherland WJ, Adams WM, Aronson RB, Aveling R, Blackburn TM, Broad S, Ceballos G, Côté IM, Cowling RM, da Fonseca GAB, et al. 2009. One hundred questions of importance to the conservation of global biological diversity. Conserv Biol 23:557–567.
  8. Rudd MA, Beazley KF, Cooke SJ, Fleishman E, Lane DE, Mascia MB, Roth R, Tabor G, Bakker JA, Bellefontaine T, et al. 2011. Generation of priority research questions to inform conservation policy and management at a national level. Conserv Biol 25:476–484.
  9. Fleishman E, Blockstein DE, Hall JA, Mascia MB, Rudd MA, Scott JM, Sutherland WJ, Bartuska AM, Brown AG, Christen CA, et al. 2011. Top 40 priorities for science to inform US conservation and management policy. BioScience 61:290–300.
  10. Pretty J, Sutherland WJ, Ashby J, Auburn J, Baulcombe D, Bell M, Bentley J, Bickersteth S, Brown K, Burke J, et al. 2010. The top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture. Int J Agric Sustain 8:219–236.
  11. Brown LE, Mitchell G, Holden J, Folkard A, Wright N, Beharry‐Borg N, Berry G, Brierley B, Chapman P, Clarke SJ, et al. 2010. Priority water research questions as determined by UK practitioners and policy makers. Sci Total Environ 409:256–266.
  12. Boxall AB, Rudd MA, Brooks BW, Caldwell DJ, Choi K, Hickmann S, Innes E, Ostapyk K, Staveley JP, Verslycke T, et al. 2012. Pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment: What are the big questions? Environ Health Perspect 120:1221–1122.
  13. Brooks BW, Ankley GT, Boxall ABA, Rudd M. 2013. Toward sustainable environmental quality: A call to prioritize global research needs. Integr Environ Assess Manag 9: 179-180.

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