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Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Jul 15;48(14):7690-6. doi: 10.1021/es405082t. Epub 2014 Jun 26.

Assessing the impact of multiple stressors on aquatic biota: the receptor's side matters.

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Centre for Fish and Wildlife Health, Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathobiology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern , PO Box 8466, CH-3001 Bern, Switzerland.


Aquatic ecosystems are confronted with multiple stress factors. Current approaches to assess the risk of anthropogenic stressors to aquatic ecosystems are developed for single stressors and determine stressor effects primarily as a function of stressor properties. The cumulative impact of several stressors, however, may differ markedly from the impact of the single stressors and can result in nonlinear effects and ecological surprises. To meet the challenge of diagnosing and predicting multiple stressor impacts, assessment strategies should focus on properties of the biological receptors rather than on stressor properties. This change of paradigm is required because (i) multiple stressors affect multiple biological targets at multiple organizational levels, (ii) biological receptors differ in their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and response dynamics to the individual stressors, and (iii) biological receptors function as networks, so that actions of stressors at disparate sites within the network can lead via indirect or cascading effects, to unexpected outcomes.

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