Request >Impacts of ElectroMagnetic Radiation (EMR) on wildlife

What are the impacts of artificial electromagnetic radiation on wildlife (invertebrates, vertebrates and plants)?

Requester: Buglife

Summary

Type of request: Horizon scanning
This request aimed to explore how the current use of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is affecting biodiversity and ecosystem services (such as pollination and pest control). A better understanding and awareness of environmental risks from EMR can lead to the development, promotion and implementation of adequate and timely policy frameworks.

Reference: Request CfR.1/2016/4

Experts Steering Group
  • Matt Shardlow (requester, Buglife)
  • Prof Mario Babilon (DHBW- Stuttgart)
  • Dr Erich Pascal Malkemper (IMP- Vienna)
  • Dr Benoît Stockbroeckx (ANPI and Belgian Health Council)
  • Dr Thomas Tscheulin (University of Aegean)
  • Dr Adam J. Vanbergen (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)
  • Prof Alain Vian (University of Angers)
Contact points

KCB Focal Point: Estelle Balian, Lise Goudeseune (Deputy)
EMB Contact Point: Jorge Ventocilla

Final outputs

Final reports: 27.04.2018

Document of work: file.21.08.2017
Poster POCC Conference: file.24.01.2019
Scientific article: link.07.08.2019

The technical set up and conditions in which the studies are undertaken are often questionable, and there are no common standards or methodologies to compare and/or reproduce the experiments, which in general rarely incorporate the effects on animals or plants.

Eklipse organized a web conference, attended by scientists, policy-makers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs working on topics related to EMR to discuss the current knowledge on the effects of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) on wildlife. The attendants highlighted the current state of the art in this field, identified knowledge gaps related to the impacts on different taxonomic groups, discussed the technical aspects and methodologies used in current studies, and prioritized key research needs and policy recommendations. Prioritized key research needs from a scientific perspective, and identified policy recommendations based on current knowledge. These can be summarized as follows:

  • There is a need to base future research on sound, high-quality, replicable experiments so that credible, transparent and easily accessible evidence can inform society and policy-makers to make decisions and frame their policies.
  • There is a lack of standardized and controlled technical set-ups in the current scientific studies, in particular for experiments and monitoring of exposure levels and frequencies, in order to allow comparison and replication of the studies. This also has implications for the sharing and accessibility of open data to the research community at large.
  • Some species or taxa are currently being understudied, while a need remains to better understand the interactions at different levels. Potential improvements include the use of observations from local people, the use of citizen science; and collaboration between different areas of expertise, or institutions.
  • There is a need to allocate more funding to research on the topic. It is important to bring together different stakeholders (not only scientists, but also policy-makers, businesses, citizens, decision-makers, etc.) and to set up advisory groups.
  • Some participants recommended applying the precautionary principle, to define and set safe limits to EMR exposure and to avoid placing EMR sources in nature reserves/wildlife areas.
  • In terms of science-policy interface, a next step would be to determine more precisely which EMR frequencies and sources appear to have the most significant effects, to characterize the range of impacts, and to scope the scale of their potential effects on wildlife, so that policy and research priorities can be better framed. The current research needs to be grounded in studies with solid data and background to make sure a message, based on correct and verified knowledge, can be conveyed to decision-makers and society in general.
Impacts in Science
Impacts in Society

Electromagnetic radiation or EMR are a combination of invisible electric and magnetic fields of force that can occur both naturally and due to human activity (anthropogenic EMR). Anthropogenic EMR are used in a wide range of technologies (namely powerlines, TV/radio broadcasting, Wi-Fi, 2G/3G/4G communications), with their presence expanding in terms of the range of frequencies and the volume of transmissions.

This increase in EMR and its potential effects on wildlife has already been identified as an emerging issue that could affect global biodiversity but that is not yet well understood by the scientific community, as reported by an international group of experts (Sutherland et al., 2018).  There are a number of policy documents and regulations related to the risks and effects of EMR but most of them refer to the impacts on human health. Other research tends to be focused only on a few specific species or taxa, or certain types of radiations. In view of the concerns that EMR might be affecting biodiversity and ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control, a better understanding and awareness of the environmental risks of EMR can lead to the development, promotion and implementation of adequate and timely policy frameworks.

Timeline

Date request received: 28/10/2016
Call for Knowledge: 01/05/2017
Date of Experts selection: From March to July 2017
Date of Experts Steering Group kick-off meeting: 04/07/2017

The request submitted by Buglife in October 2016 on the impacts of anthropogenic EMR was selected to initiate a process of identifying key knowledge gaps and research needs, as well as to formulate recommendations.

Scoping phase

The original request was entitled “What are the impacts of artificial electromagnetic radiation on invertebrates? What is the risk that such radiation is causing harm to populations of invertebrates, other wildlife and ecosystem services? What are the evidence gaps that are the highest priority to address? What policy solutions should be considered?”.  Because the corpus of research studies on the impacts of EMR on invertebrates specifically appeared limited, and because of the interest in comparing the effects on different types of organisms, the scope of the request was adjusted and extended to the impacts on vertebrates and plants too. However, it was decided to still exclude the impacts on human health, since humans are differently exposed to radiations and the literature – which is also more extensive – is part of the medical field of research.

The request question was then reframed to: “What are the impacts of artificial electromagnetic radiation on wildlife (invertebrates, vertebrates and plants)?”.

During this scoping phase, a call for knowledge was launched to carry out a first literature overview and compile a list of publications relevant to the topic.

The Document of Work (DoW) described the results of the scoping activities as well as the background of the request.

Answering the request

After the first literature overview during the scoping phase,  EKLIPSE invited selected experts to join an Experts Steering Group to analyse the publications and develop a background report on current knowledge gaps and research needs.  This background report was the basis of discussion for the web conference engaging participants from a wide range of disciplines and other stakeholders to further elaborate recommendations on research needs.

Selection of an Experts Steering Group (see above)

The Experts Steering Group was multidisciplinary: it was composed of four biologists/ecologists specialised in different taxonomic groups, as well as two physicists with experience working with electromagnetic fields.

Web Conference

The web conference was organised on the week of the 22nd-25th of January 2018. This web conference was attended by scientists, policy-makers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs working on topics related to EMR to discuss the current knowledge on the effects of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) on wildlife. The aim was to highlight the current state of the art in this field, to identify knowledge gaps related to the impacts on different taxonomic groups, to discuss the technical aspects and methodologies used in current studies, and to identify and prioritize key research needs and policy recommendations. From this web conference, a second report was produced. Experts presenting at the conference included the following:

The video recordings of the web conference are available here on the Eklipse Youtube channel.

Finalization

Resulting from this request, two reports were produced:

1/ The Current Knowledge Overview report explains the work done by the Expert Steering Group in analysing a representative set of the peer-reviewed literature and includes their findings, which consist of:

  • a list of the main results extracted from the studies
  • an assessment of the quality of the reviewed papers and studies
  • the identification of knowledge gaps

2/ The Web Conference report outlines the outcomes of the discussions that took place during the web conference and consists of:

  • feedback from the participants on the first document
  • lists of research needs and policy recommendations identified by the participants

Moreover, building on the work carried out by the expert steering group for this request, a new paper on the impacts of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) on pollinators has recently been produced. The paper can be found here.