A methodology for ecosystem-scale modeling of selenium

Authors

  • Theresa S Presser,

    Corresponding author
    1. US Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA
    • US Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Samuel N Luoma

    1. US Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA
    2. John Muir Institute of the Environment, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

The main route of exposure for selenium (Se) is dietary, yet regulations lack biologically based protocols for evaluations of risk. We propose here an ecosystem-scale model that conceptualizes and quantifies the variables that determine how Se is processed from water through diet to predators. This approach uses biogeochemical and physiological factors from laboratory and field studies and considers loading, speciation, transformation to particulate material, bioavailability, bioaccumulation in invertebrates, and trophic transfer to predators. Validation of the model is through data sets from 29 historic and recent field case studies of Se-exposed sites. The model links Se concentrations across media (water, particulate, tissue of different food web species). It can be used to forecast toxicity under different management or regulatory proposals or as a methodology for translating a fish-tissue (or other predator tissue) Se concentration guideline to a dissolved Se concentration. The model illustrates some critical aspects of implementing a tissue criterion: 1) the choice of fish species determines the food web through which Se should be modeled, 2) the choice of food web is critical because the particulate material to prey kinetics of bioaccumulation differs widely among invertebrates, 3) the characterization of the type and phase of particulate material is important to quantifying Se exposure to prey through the base of the food web, and 4) the metric describing partitioning between particulate material and dissolved Se concentrations allows determination of a site-specific dissolved Se concentration that would be responsible for that fish body burden in the specific environment. The linked approach illustrates that environmentally safe dissolved Se concentrations will differ among ecosystems depending on the ecological pathways and biogeochemical conditions in that system. Uncertainties and model sensitivities can be directly illustrated by varying exposure scenarios based on site-specific knowledge. The model can also be used to facilitate site-specific regulation and to present generic comparisons to illustrate limitations imposed by ecosystem setting and inhabitants. Used optimally, the model provides a tool for framing a site-specific ecological problem or occurrence of Se exposure, quantify exposure within that ecosystem, and narrow uncertainties about how to protect it by understanding the specifics of the underlying system ecology, biogeochemistry, and hydrology. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2010;6:685–710. © 2010 SETAC

Ancillary