Predicting impacts of chemicals from organisms to ecosystem service delivery: A case study of endocrine disruptor effects on trout

Valery E Forbes, Steve Railsback, Chiara Accolla, Bjorn Birnir, Randall J.F. Bruins, Virginie Ducrot, Nika Galic, Kristina Garber, Bret C. Harvey, Henriette I. Jager, Andrew Kanarek, Robert Pastorok, Richard Rebarber, Pernille Thorbek, Chris J. Salice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


We demonstrate how mechanistic modeling can be used to predict whether and how biological responses to chemicals at (sub)organismal levels in model species (i.e., what we typically measure) translate into impacts on ecosystem service delivery (i.e., what we care about). We consider a hypothetical case study of two species of trout, brown trout (Salmo trutta; BT) and greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii stomias; GCT). These hypothetical populations live in a high-altitude river system and are exposed to human-derived estrogen (17α‑ethinyl estradiol, EE2), which is the bioactive estrogen in many contraceptives. We use the individual-based model inSTREAM to explore how seasonally varying concentrations of EE2 could influence male spawning and sperm quality. Resulting impacts on trout recruitment and the consequences of such for anglers and for the continued viability of populations of GCT (the state fish of Colorado) are explored. inSTREAM incorporates seasonally varying river flow and temperature, fishing pressure, the influence of EE2 on species-specific demography, and inter-specific competition. The model facilitates quantitative exploration of the relative importance of endocrine disruption and inter-species competition on trout population dynamics. Simulations predicted constant EE2 loading to have more impacts on GCT than BT. However, increasing removal of BT by anglers can enhance the persistence of GCT and offset some of the negative effects of EE2. We demonstrate how models that quantitatively link impacts of chemicals and other stressors on individual survival, growth, and reproduction to consequences for populations and ecosystem service delivery, can be coupled with ecosystem service valuation. The approach facilitates interpretation of toxicity data in an ecological context and gives beneficiaries of ecosystem services a more explicit role in management decisions. Although challenges remain, this type of approach may be particularly helpful for site-specific risk assessments and those in which tradeoffs and synergies among ecosystem services need to be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-959
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The present study was conducted as part of the Organisms to Ecosystems Working Group at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, sponsored by the National Science Foundation through award DBI-1300426 , with additional support from The University of Tennessee , Knoxville. We thank members of our sister working group (Molecules to Organisms) and in particular Irv Shultz for sharing his extensive trout knowledge and data. This research was coauthored by HJ at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is managed by UT-Battelle, LLC, under Contract Number DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the U.S. Government retains a nonexclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, worldwide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for U.S. Government purposes. The Department of Energy will provide public access to these results of federally sponsored research in accordance with the DOE Public Access Plan ( ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier B.V.


  • Ecological modeling
  • Ecological risk assessment
  • Ecosystem services
  • FEGS
  • Individual-based model
  • Trout


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