US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Contaminants in Biota: Interpreting Tissue Concentrations, 2nd edition, ed. W. Nelson Beyer & James P. Meador (Boca Raton: CRC, 2011).


U.S. Government Work


Ecotoxicology is the study of the movement of environmental contaminants through ecosystems and their effects on plants and animals. Examining tissue residues of these contaminants in biota is basic to ecotoxicology, both for understanding the movement of contaminants within organisms and through food chains, and for understanding and quantifying injuries to organisms and their communities. This book provides guidance on interpreting tissue concentrations of environmental contaminants.

Tissue concentrations have long been used both to identify the cause of toxicity in animals and as a measure of the severity of toxicity. More recently, they have been incorporated into environmental models, tying together exposure, kinetics, and toxic effects. Measuring tissue concentrations is basic to studies on the kinetics of contaminants, which entails characterizing the rates of uptake and elimination in organisms, as well as redistribution (organs, lipid, and plasma) within them. Tissue concentrations are also used in ecological studies examining the movement of contaminants between organisms and within biological communities.