Skip to Main Content

  • Introduction

  • Some Distinct Aspects of Exposure

  • Toxicant Effects

    • Molecular and Biochemical Effects

    • Gene Expression and Ecotoxicogenomics

      • Estrogen Receptor

      • Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor

      • Genomics and Ecotoxicogenomics

      • Protein Damage

      • Oxidative Stress

      • DNA Damage

    • Cellular, Tissue, and Organ Effects

      • Cells

      • Histopathology

      • Target Organs

    • Organismal Effects

      • Mortality

      • Reproduction and Development

      • Disease Susceptibility

      • Behavior

      • Cancer

    • Population

    • Community

    • Ecosystem to Biosphere

  • Approaches

    • Toxicity Tests

    • Biomarkers

    • Population

    • Community and Ecosystem

    • Landscape to Biosphere

  • Ecological Risk Assessment

  • Interconnections Between Ecosystem Integrity and Human Health

  • Acknowledgment


Ecotoxicology is the science of contaminants in the biosphere and their effects on constituents of the biosphere (Newman, 2010). It follows from this definition that ecotoxicologists examine large-scale ecological phenomenon (Preston, 2002) in addition to those normally addressed in toxicology: ecotoxicology has an overarching goal of explaining and predicting effect or exposure phenomena at several levels of biological organization (Fig. 30-1). Essential explanations and models include those applied in conventional toxicology and a range of environmental sciences.

Figure 30-1.

Ecological scales relevant to ecotoxicology. Solely biological scales relevant to ecotoxicology range from the molecular to the community levels: solely abiotic scales range from the chemical to the entire habitat. Biotic and abiotic components are usually combined at levels above the ecological community and habitat. The ecological community and physicochemical habitat combined to form the ecosystem. Ecological systems can be considered at the landscape scale, such as the combination of marine, freshwater, and terrestrial systems at a river’s mouth. Recently, the continental and biospheric scales have become relevant as in the cases of ozone depletion, acid precipitation, and global warming.

Although Truhaut’s original definition of this new science encompassed effects to humans (Truhaut, 1977), most recent definitions of ecotoxicology do not. Relevant effects to nonhuman targets range from biomolecular to global. Taking on the classic toxicology vantage initially, suborganismal and organismal effects were emphasized during ecotoxicology’s nascent stage; however, studies of higher level effects and interactions are becoming increasingly commonplace as the science matures. Such indirect effects1 were initially considered problematic and reluctantly relegated to secondary importance (Fleeger et al., 2003) relative to direct effects to individuals. Indirect effects are now known to be as important as direct effects to nonhuman targets (Fleeger et al., 2003; Chapman, 2004). As the need to predict major effects to populations, communities, ecosystems, and other higher level entities has become increasingly apparent, more cause–effect models relevant to these higher levels of biological organization are added to the conventional set of toxicology models applied by pioneering ecotoxicologists.

Contaminant chemical form, phase association, and movement among components of the biosphere are also central issues in ecotoxicology because they determine exposure, bioavailability, and realized dose. The context of these biogeochemical studies has expanded in the last several decades to encompass issues of larger scale such as global movement of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (Wania and Mackay, ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.