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Use of biochemical, physiological, anatomical, reproductive and behavioral characteristics of wild terrestrial vertebrates to assess contaminant exposure and effects has become commonplace over the past 3 decades. At the level of the individual organism, response patterns have been associated with and sometimes causally linked to contaminant exposure. However, such responses at the organismal level are rarely associated with or causally linked to effects at the population level. Although the ultimate goal of ecotoxicology is the protection of populations, communities, and ecosystems, most of the existing science and regulatory legislation focus on the level of the individual. Consequently, much of this overview concentrates on contaminant effects at the organismal level, with some extrapolation to higher-level effects. In this chapter, we review the state of the science for the evaluation of biotic end-points used to assess contaminant exposure and effects at or above the level of the individual. In addition, we describe extant contaminant concentration thresholds, guidelines, or standards (toxicant criteria) in environmental matrices (e.g., water, soil, sediment, foods) that have been developed to protect wild terrestrial vertebrates. Suggestions are provided to develop and embellish the use and value of such endpoints and criteria for extrapolation of effects to higher levels of biological organization. Increasing focus on populations, communities, and ecosystems is needed to develop biologically meaningful regulatory guidelines that will protect natural resources.
Additional Publication Details
Contaminant effect endpoints in terrestrial vertebrates at and above the individual level