The reason for expressing ecological protection goals in terms of ecosystem services is to make a connection between ecosystems and what people get out of them in terms of marketed goods and nonmarketed welfare. Here our focus will be on how the ecosystem services framework is and can be applied to the ecological risk assessment (ERA) of chemicals. We provide 2 contrasting examples of how the ecosystem services framework is currently being applied in regulatory risk assessment, and we discuss the challenges and knowledge gaps that need to be addressed if such a framework is to substantially improve ERAs and their ability to inform management decisions. We make the point that formulating protection goals in terms of ecosystem services only makes sense if they can be used in managing environmental impacts and if they are useful in informing the risk assessments behind these. Ecosystem services can make a contribution to management by connecting ecosystem structure and process to what is valued, and analyzing risk in this context is a way of making risk assessment more policy- and value-relevant. Using an ecosystem services framework to its fullest potential to support ERA will require the successful development of a suite of coupled Valuation Methods, Ecological Production Functions, and Mechanistic Effect Models that will require the establishment of strong multidisciplinary collaborations among ecologists, computer scientists, social scientists, and possibly others. In addition, buy-in from environmental decision makers and other stakeholders will be crucial. Some progress is being made on the research front, and the implementation of new legislation is providing incentives for developing risk assessment outputs that are much more directly related to environmental protection goals than those used currently.
Copyright © 2012 SETAC.