The task of regulating potentially harmful chemicals in the environment is presently hindered by the lack of appropriate concepts and methods for evaluating the effects of anthropogenic chemicals on ecosystems. Toxicity tests at the molecular and physiological levels have been used successfully as indicators of adverse effects on test organisms and have been extrapolated to humans to establish a basis for risk assessment. However, laboratory measurements of effects upon individuals do not translate readily into potential effects upon natural populations, in part because natural populations interact with other populations and with the physical environment. Even more difficult to assess are the deleterious impacts of anthropogenic chemicals on ecosystems, because of effects on species interactions, diversity, nutrient cycling, productivity, climatic changes, and other processes. Effects on ecosystems resulting from chemical stresses are outside the realm of classical toxicology, and an ecosystem-level perspective is essential for the consideration of such effects; but the science that deals with ecosystem-level effects, ecotoxicology, is still developing. This article synthesizes the topics discussed at a workshop on ecotoxicology held by the Ecosystems Research Center at Cornell University. Topics covered include: the regulatory framework in which ecotoxicological research must be applied; ecosystem modification of toxicant fate and transport; how ecosystem composition, structure, and function are influenced by chemicals; methods currently available for predicting the effects of chemicals at the ecosystem level; and recommendations on research needs to enhance the state of the science of ecotoxicology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Environmental regulation
- Fate and transport of anthropogenic chemicals
- Keystone and critical species