The role of ecological models in linking ecological risk assessment to ecosystem services in agroecosystems

Nika Galic, Amelie Schmolke, Valery Forbes, Hans Baveco, Paul J. van den Brink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Agricultural practices are essential for sustaining the human population, but at the same time they can directly disrupt ecosystem functioning. Ecological risk assessment (ERA) aims to estimate possible adverse effects of human activities on ecosystems and their parts. Current ERA practices, however, incorporate very little ecology and base the risk estimates on the results of standard tests with several standard species. The main obstacles for a more ecologically relevant ERA are the lack of clear protection goals and the inherent complexity of ecosystems that is hard to approach empirically. In this paper, we argue that the ecosystem services framework offers an opportunity to define clear and ecologically relevant protection goals. At the same time, ecological models provide the tools to address ecological complexity to the degree needed to link measurement endpoints and ecosystem services, and to quantify service provision and possible adverse effects from human activities. We focus on the ecosystem services relevant for agroecosystem functioning, including pollination, biocontrol and eutrophication effects and present modeling studies relevant for quantification of each of the services. The challenges of the ecosystem services approach are discussed as well as the limitations of ecological models in the context of ERA. A broad, multi-stakeholder dialog is necessary to aid the definition of protection goals in terms of services delivered by ecosystems and their parts. The need to capture spatio-temporal dynamics and possible interactions among service providers pose challenges for ecological models as a basis for decision making. However, we argue that both fields are advancing quickly and can prove very valuable in achieving more ecologically relevant ERA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jan 15 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The work of Nika Galic is supported by Syngenta and Bayer CropScience .


  • Assessment endpoints
  • Biological control
  • Eutrophication
  • Extrapolation
  • Pollination
  • Protection goals


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