Estimation of population-level benchmark concentrations for protecting aquatic organisms from chemicals is important for value-relevant ecological risk assessments. By employing a species sensitivity distribution (SSD) approach, the authors aimed to derive the population-level hazardous concentration for 5% of species (PHC5) for copper. Based on available information on copper toxicity and population models, the authors estimated population threshold concentrations at which the population size is stable (that is, 0 net population growth) for 13 freshwater species (3 algal, 6 invertebrate, and 4 fish species). The PHC5 for copper was then estimated (6.8 µg/L; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.8–13.6 µg/L), by fitting a log-normal distribution to the population threshold concentrations obtained. The close overlap between the present study's estimate of the PHC5 and a field-derived threshold concentration suggests that the population-level SSD approach provides a reasonable level of protection for species richness in the natural environment. By contrast, and counterintuitively, the authors' estimate was comparable with the individual-level HC5 reported in the European Union risk assessment. Although the present study cannot determine the underlying reasons for the similar figures, the result provides an indication that the margin between individual-level and population-level benchmarks derived from SSD approaches can be very small. The results therefore suggest that attention is needed to achieve population-level protection using an individual-level SSD approach. Environ Toxicol Chem 2013;32:1396–1402. © 2013 SETAC
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