Community responses to contaminants: Using basic ecological principles to predict ecotoxicological effects

Authors

  • William H. Clements,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA
    • Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA
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  • Jason R. Rohr

    1. Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620, USA
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Abstract

Community ecotoxicology is defined as the study of the effects of contaminants on patterns of species abundance, diversity, community composition, and species interactions. Recent discoveries that species diversity is positively associated with ecosystem stability, recovery, and services have made a community-level perspective on ecotoxicology more important than ever. Community ecotoxicology must explicitly consider both present and impending global change and shift from a purely descriptive to a more predictive science. Greater consideration of the ecological factors and threshold responses that determine community resistance and resilience should improve our ability to predict how and when communities will respond to, and recover from, xenobiotics. A better understanding of pollution-induced community tolerance, and of the costs of this tolerance, should facilitate identifying contaminant-impacted communities, thus forecasting the ecological consequences of contaminant exposure and determining the restoration effectiveness. Given the vast complexity of community ecotoxicology, simplifying assumptions, such as the possibility that the approximately 100,000 registered chemicals could be reduced to a more manageable number of contaminant classes with similar modes of action, must be identified and validated. In addition to providing a framework for predicting contaminant fate and effects, food-web ecology can help to identify communities that are sensitive to contaminants, contaminants that are particularly insidious to communities, and species that are crucial for transmitting adverse effects across trophic levels. Integration of basic ecological principles into the design and implementation of ecotoxicological research is essential for predicting contaminant effects within the context of rapidly changing, global environmental conditions.

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