Ecological risk assessments play an important role in environmental management and decision-making. Although empirical measurements of the effects of habitat changes and chemical exposure are often made at molecular and individual levels, environmental decision-making often requires the quantification of management-relevant, population-level outcomes. In this study, we generalized a modeling framework to evaluate population-level ecological risk of environmental stress and bioactive chemicals. The modeling framework includes (1) a biological model module that incorporates complex and interacting biological and ecological processes, and environmental stochasticity, (2) an effect module that links the impacts of environmental changes and chemical exposure to individual characteristics, and (3) a population module that makes decisions on the choice of population-level properties to best capture the effects and thus to track in the model based on the target species and the research and management interest. This framework is a 3-module procedure that provides an alternative way for researchers to organize, present and communicate the risk assessment modeling studies. To demonstrate this framework, we used a socioeconomically important riverine fish species, smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu, as the model species. We developed an individual-based model as the biological model module. We evaluated the impacts of changing water temperature and flow regimes, and the impacts of exposure to estrogenic endocrine disrupting compounds (EEDC) on smallmouth bass populations in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, USA. Warm summer water temperatures and year-round high flows had the most severe impacts on the smallmouth bass population. An increase in exposure level to EEDC, both year-round and in summer months, substantially reduced population size, spawner and recruit abundance, and the proportion of quality-length individuals. Acute exposure to EEDC was more detrimental to the population than chronic exposure. Acute exposure during spawning season had the most severe impacts. This modeling framework can be extended to other species, environmental factors and chemicals, and can be used to inform management and conservation decisions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecological Modeling