Researchers at Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the University of East Anglia have suggested that the Internet could be used as an early warning system for potential ecological disasters.
Ecosystem services such as water purification and food production are of fundamental importance for all planetary life.
However, these are threatened by sudden changes in ecosystems caused by various pressures like climate change and global markets.
Collapsing fisheries and the irreversible degradation of freshwater ecosystems and coral reefs are examples that have already been observed. Averting such ecosystem changes is of vital importance.
Despite improved ecosystem monitoring, early warnings of ecological crisis are still limited by insufficient data and gaps in official monitoring systems.
Now, researchers Victor Galaz, Beatrice Crona, Örjan Bodin, Magnus Nyström and Per Olsson, and Tim Daw from the School of International Development at UEA, have explored the possibilities of using information posted on the Internet to detect ecosystems on the brink of change.
"Information and communications technology is revolutionizing the generation of and access to information. Systematic ''data mining'' of such information through the Internet can provide important early warnings about pending losses of ecosystem services," said lead author Dr Galaz.
Daw said: "If we look at coral reefs, for example, the Internet may contain information that describes not only changes in the ecosystem, but also in drivers of change, such as global seafood markets".
The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.