(Eco)toxicological tests for assessing impacts of chemical stress to aquatic ecosystems: Facts, challenges, and future

Lara M. Schuijt*, Feng Jiao Peng, Sanne J.P. van den Berg, Milou M.L. Dingemans, Paul J. Van den Brink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Monitoring of chemicals in the aquatic environment by chemical analysis alone cannot completely assess and predict the effects of chemicals on aquatic species and ecosystems. This is primarily because of the increasing number of (unknown) chemical stressors and mixture effects present in the environment. In addition, the ability of ecological indices to identify underlying stressors causing negative ecological effects is limited. Therefore, additional complementary methods are needed that can address the biological effects in a direct manner and provide a link to chemical exposure, i.e. (eco)toxicological tests. (Eco)toxicological tests are defined as test systems that expose biological components (cells, individuals, populations, communities) to (environmental mixtures of) chemicals to register biological effects. These tests measure responses at the sub-organismal (biomarkers and in vitro bioassays), whole-organismal, population, or community level. We performed a literature search to obtain a state-of-the-art overview of ecotoxicological tests available for assessing impacts of chemicals to aquatic biota and to reveal datagaps. In total, we included 509 biomarkers, 207 in vitro bioassays, 422 tests measuring biological effects at the whole-organismal level, and 78 tests at the population- community- and ecosystem-level. Tests at the whole-organismal level and biomarkers were most abundant for invertebrates and fish, whilst in vitro bioassays are mostly based on mammalian cell lines. Tests at the community- and ecosystem-level were almost missing for organisms other than microorganisms and algae. In addition, we provide an overview of the various extrapolation challenges faced in using data from these tests and suggest some forward looking perspectives. Although extrapolating the measured responses to relevant protection goals remains challenging, the combination of ecotoxicological experiments and models is key for a more comprehensive assessment of the effects of chemical stressors to aquatic ecosystems

Original languageEnglish
Article number148776
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2021


  • Bioassays
  • Biomarkers
  • Ecological risk assessment
  • Ecotoxicity tests
  • Effect-based methods
  • Extrapolation
  • Monitoring


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