Predicting the sensitivity of populations from individual exposure to chemicals: The role of ecological interactions



Population responses to chemical stress exposure are influenced by nonchemical, environmental processes such as species interactions. A realistic quantification of chemical toxicity to populations calls for the use of methodologies that integrate these multiple stress effects. The authors used an individual-based model for Daphnia magna as a virtual laboratory to determine the influence of ecological interactions on population sensitivity to chemicals with different modes of action on individuals. In the model, hypothetical chemical toxicity targeted different vital individual-level processes: reproduction, survival, feeding rate, or somatic growth rate. As for species interactions, predatory and competition effects on daphnid populations were implemented following a worst-case approach. The population abundance was simulated at different food levels and exposure scenarios, assuming exposure to chemical stress solely or in combination with either competition or predation. The chemical always targeted one vital endpoint. Equal toxicity-inhibition levels differently affected the population abundance with and without species interactions. In addition, population responses to chemicals were highly sensitive to the environmental stressor (predator or competitor) and to the food level. Results show that population resilience cannot be attributed to chemical stress only. Accounting for the relevant ecological interactions would reduce uncertainties when extrapolating effects of chemicals from individuals to the population level. Validated population models should be used for a more realistic risk assessment of chemicals. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:1449–1457. © 2014 SETAC