Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Published in Encyclopedia of Theoretical Ecology, edited by Alan Hastings and Louis J. Gross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), pp. 247-249.


Copyright © 2012 Regents of the University of California. Used by permission.


Ecotoxicology is concerned with describing, understanding, and predicting the effects of chemicals used by people, either from natural sources (such as metals) or from synthetic processes (agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals), on ecological systems. It provides the basis for ecological risk assessment, predicting likely impacts of chemicals on ecological systems, and is an important contributor to environmental protection legislation. ...

Theoretical models have an important part to play in ecotoxicology, because it is extremely difficult to predict the likely effects of chemicals in complex ecological systems simply on the basis of observation. Ecological models that incorporate mechanistic understanding of the appropriate processes and linkages are particularly useful. An important issue to be addressed in this context is how much complexity needs to be incorporated in models to make them suitably predictive for their application in risk assessment and environmental protection. More generally, effort needs to be put into developing methods for assessing how chemicals impact ecosystem processes that have consequences for valued ecosystem services. Finally, there is as yet little understanding of how evolutionary adaptation should be addressed in risk assessment, and this needs further study.