Assessing the feasibility and value of employing an ecosystem services approach in chemical environmental risk assessment under the Water Framework Directive

A.R. Brown*, Stuart Marshall, Chris Cooper, Paul Whitehouse, Paul J. van den Brink, Jack H. Faber, Lorraine Maltby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The feasibility and added value of an ecosystem services approach in retrospective environmental risk assessment were evaluated using a site-specific case study in a lowland UK river. The studied water body failed to achieve good ecological status temporarily in 2018, due in part to the exceedance of the environmental quality standard (annual average EQS) for zinc. Potential ecosystem service delivery was quantified for locally prioritised ecosystem services: regulation of chemical condition; maintaining nursery populations and habitats; recreational fishing; nature watching. Quantification was based on observed and expected taxa or functional groups within WFD biological quality elements, including macrophytes, benthic macroinvertebrates and fish, and on published functional trait data for constituent taxa. Benthic macroinvertebrate taxa were identified and enumerated before, during and after zinc EQS exceedance, enabling a generic retrospective risk assessment for this biological quality element, which was found to have good ecosystem service potential. An additional targeted risk assessment for zinc was based on laboratory-based species sensitivity distributions normalised using biotic-ligand modelling to account for site-specific, bioavailability-corrected zinc exposure. Risk to ecosystem services for diatoms (microalgae) was found to be high, while risks for benthic macroinvertebrates and fish were found to be low. The status of potential ecosystem service delivery (ESD) by fish was equivalent to high ecological status defined under the WFD, while ESD was higher for benthic macroinvertebrates than defined by WFD methods. The illustrated ecosystem services approach uses readily available data and adds significantly to the taxonomic approach currently used under the WFD by using functional traits to evaluate services that are prioritised as being important in water bodies. The main shortcomings of the illustrated approach were lack of: representation of bacteria and fungi; WFD predicted species lists for diatoms and macrophytes; site-specific functional trait data required for defining actual (rather than potential) ecosystem service delivery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147857
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • Bioavailable zinc
  • Ecosystem services
  • Functional traits
  • Risk assessment


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