Eco-epidemiology of aquatic ecosystems: Separating chemicals from multiple stressors

Sci Total Environ. 2016 Dec 15;573:1303-1319. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.06.242. Epub 2016 Aug 9.


A non-toxic environment and a good ecological status are policy goals guiding research and management of chemicals and surface water systems in Europe and elsewhere. Research and policies on chemicals and water are however still disparate and unable to evaluate the relative ecological impacts of chemical mixtures and other stressors. This paper defines and explores the use of eco-epidemiological analysis of surveillance monitoring data sets via a proxy to quantify mixture impacts on ecosystems. Case studies show examples of different, progressive steps that are possible. Case study data were obtained for various regions in Europe and the United States. Data types relate to potential stressors at various scales, concerning landscape, land-use, in-stream physico-chemical and pollutant data, and data on fish and invertebrates. The proxy-values for mixture impacts were quantified as predicted (multi-substance) Potentially Affected Fractions of species (msPAF), using Species Sensitivity Distribution (SSD) models in conjunction with bioavailability and mixture models. The case studies summarize the monitoring data sets and the subsequent diagnostic bioassessments. Variation in mixture toxic pressures amongst sites appeared to covary with abundance changes in large (50-86%) percentages of taxa for the various study regions. This shows that an increased mixture toxic pressure (msPAF) relates to increased ecological impacts. Subsequent multi-stressor evaluations resulted in statistically significant, site-specific diagnosis of the magnitudes of ecological impacts and the relative contributions of different stress factors to those impacts. This included both mixtures and individual chemicals. These results allow for ranking stressors, sites and impacted species groups. That is relevant information for water management. The case studies are discussed in relation to policy and management strategies that support reaching a non-toxic environment and good ecological status. Reaching these goals requires not only focused sectoral policies, such as on chemical- or water management, but also an overarching and solution-focused view.

Keywords: Ecological impact; Good ecological status; Multiple stress; Non-toxic environment; Species sensitivity distribution; Stressor ranking.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Europe
  • Fishes / metabolism*
  • Invertebrates / drug effects*
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • United States
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical