Syntropic Ecotoxicology: A Heuristic Model for Understanding the Vulnerability of Ecological Systems to Stress

Authors

  • Timothy J. Downs,

    1. Environmental Science and Policy Program, Department of International Development, Community and Environment, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts;
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  • Richard F. Ambrose

    1. Environmental Science and Engineering Program, School of Public Health, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
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Address correspondence to: Timothy J. Downs, Environmental Science and Policy Program, Department of International Development, Community and Environment (IDCE), Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610-1477, USA; E-mail: Tdowns@Clarku.edu

Abstract

ABSTRACT This paper argues for a syntropic, multilevel conceptualization of ecotoxicology beyond the simple organism-level effects of poisons. Such a concept embraces complex systems, ecotoxicology, ecoepidemiology, and ecosystem health and integrity. One way of thinking about the relative stability of ecosystems and their biological and nonbiological components is the conditional (Bayesian) probability of their coherent versus incoherent response to perturbation. Anthropogenic and natural stress may change the structure, function and/or organization of dissipative systems at any level, compromising self-regulation and making unstable incoherent responses more probable. Syntropic ecotoxicology argues for increased understanding of how ecotoxic agents or events may be disrupting self-regulating mechanisms at the molecular, cellular, organismal, population, and/or community levels—their multilevel ecotoxicodynamics. In parallel, and adaptive to new knowledge, interdisciplinary teams of scientists, policy makers, and other stakeholders must collaborate effectively to mobilize and integrate financial, human, material, and information resources to prevent and control existing priority deterministic stressors.

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