Ecological risk assessment in the context of global climate change


Global climate change (GCC) is accepted increasingly within the scientific and regulatory communities and the informed public as capable of impacting human and ecological systems for centuries 1, 2. This report stems from a SETAC Pellston Workshop convened to assess the influence of GCC on the scientific foundations and applications of environmental toxicology and chemistry, specifically from the work group charged with determining how ecological risk assessment (ERA) needs to change to take into account GCC. Stahl et al. 3 provide a detailed account of the origins of the workshop and summarize the findings of other working groups.

At its core, ERA is a tool that is used to inform management decisions. Although the ERA process has evolved since its formal inception in the early 1980s 4, many limitations and challenges remain 5 that can decrease its effectiveness in addressing management decisions. Current ERA frameworks, such as those under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Program 6, were developed to examine risks from particular stressors (primarily chemical) acting on particular receptors bounded within relatively small geographic areas and to largely ignore other noncontaminant stressors (physical or biological). Consequently, with the exception of a limited number of watershed and regional assessments 7, 8, there is little experience with applying the framework to changing landscapes and multiple drivers.

Changes to sources, stressors, habitats, and geographic ranges; toxicological effects; end points; and uncertainty estimation require significant changes in the implementation of ecological risk assessment (ERA). Because of the lack of analog systems and circumstances in historically studied sites, there is a likelihood of type III error. As a first step, the authors propose a decision key to aid managers and risk assessors in determining when and to what extent climate change should be incorporated. Next, when global climate change is an important factor, the authors recommend seven critical changes to ERA.

Submit manuscript at  or send as an e-mail attachment to the Editorial Office at

Lucy Morgan
Editorial Coordinator
Journal of Ecology and Toxicology
WhatsApp number: +44-1647-403003