Development and Evaluation of Chemical Indicators for Monitoring Ecological Risk

EPA Grant Number: R828675C005
Subproject: this is subproject number 005 , established and managed by the Center Director under grant R828675
(EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).

Center: EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project
Center Director: Niemi, Gerald J.
Title: Development and Evaluation of Chemical Indicators for Monitoring Ecological Risk
Investigators: Swackhamer, Deborah L. , Mount, David , Ankley, Gary , Burkhard, Lawrence , Simcik, Matthew , Cook, Philip , Erickson, Russell , Diamond, Steven
Institution: University of Minnesota , U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 10, 2001 through January 9, 2005 (Extended to January 9, 2006)
RFA: Environmental Indicators in the Estuarine Environment Research Program (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Aquatic Ecosystems


The overall objective of this subproject is to identify and validate effective contaminant indicators of adverse impacts on estuarine ecosystem health. Indicators will be developed in the Great Lakes but also will be applicable to both marine and freshwater ecosystems. These contaminant indicators will be used to evaluate ecological condition. Specifically, we will focus on the evaluation of (1) indicator polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) of photo-induced toxicity to fish and benthic organisms; and (2) organic chemical indicators of xenoestrogenic exposure to fishes.

The effective assessment of ecological condition is best accomplished using integrative indicators of condition. These indicators should be cost-effective, be applicable across multiple scales, and provide useful information for environmental managers. Within the omnibus project, this contaminants subproject focuses on contaminant indicators that will provide a measure of condition of the estuarine ecosystem. These indicators also will serve as diagnostic indicators that will identify the primary stressors affecting the specific ecological endpoint of concern. We have focused on PAH compounds and environmental estrogens because they are widespread in the environment and have existing sources; therefore, they are of current concern.

The specific hypotheses we are testing are: (1) specific PAHs in combination with UV penetration are indicators of potential loss of vulnerable species within coastal fish and or benthic communities; and (2) specific chemicals are indicators of endocrine disruption in fish via the estrogen receptor. Data collected to test these hypotheses will be used to demonstrate the degree of usefulness of these two groups of indicator compounds as diagnostic indicators for estuarine ecosystems.

Our overall approach to this project is as follows. For both indicators, we will compare contaminant concentrations to a biological endpoint or condition across a gradient of nondegraded to highly degraded sites in approximately 20 locations studied by the other indicator project groups in the program. For the PAH photo-induced toxicity indicator, we will collect the necessary field data to test the model developed in the laboratory by the collaborators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division (EPA-MED) (Diamond, Mount, and Erickson). These data include the concentrations of PAHs in sediment, larval fish, and oligochaetes (to determine the bioaccumulation factors and to provide the doses for the model); sediment photo-induced toxicity potential (assayed in the laboratory using the aquatic annelid Lumbriculus [laboratory test organism] and field sediments); and UV dose (obtained from field measurements). The toxicity that is predicted from the model will be compared to toxicity measured in the laboratory assay. Results will be used to calibrate the model, and independent field data will be used to validate the model. Although photo-induced toxicity has been studied extensively and its acute toxicity demonstrated in the laboratory, this will be the first field test of such an indicator.

The xenoestrogen indicators will be identified in an analogous manner. A suite of potential xenoestrogens will be measured in fish tissue, sediment, and/or water, and compared to vitellogenin induction in wild and caged male fish (a bioindicator of individual estrogen exposure) at the same gradient of sites. Using correlative statistical techniques, we will identify specific indicator xenoestrogens that are associated with vitellogenin induction. This would represent the first link of vitellogenin induction and chemical exposure in field sites other than near sewage treatment plants.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this subproject: View all 22 publications for this subprojectView all 268 publications for this center

Supplemental Keywords:

polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, Great Lakes, GLEI, EaGLes, contaminant indicators, toxicity, estuarine ecosystems, photo-induced toxicity indicator, xenoestrogens, RFA, Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Geographic Area, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, exploratory research environmental biology, Monitoring/Modeling, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Monitoring, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Great Lakes, Ecological Indicators, Risk Assessment, ecological condition, coastal ecosystem, anthropogenic stress, biodiversity, ecosystem assessment, environmental measurement, coastal environments, PAH, ecological assessment, ecosystem indicators, analytical chemistry, estuarine ecoindicator, xenoestrogen indicators, aquatic ecosystems, ecological risk, environmental stress, water quality, environmental estrogens, ecological models, fish models, ecological response

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001
  • 2002
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Final Report

  • Main Center Abstract and Reports:

    R828675    EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project

    Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R828675C001 Great Lakes Diatom and Water Quality Indicators
    R828675C002 Vegetative Indicators of Condition, Integrity, and Sustainability of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands
    R828675C003 Testing Indicators of Coastal Ecosystem Integrity Using Fish and Macroinvertebrates
    R828675C004 Development and Assessment of Environmental Indicators Based on Birds and Amphibians in the Great Lakes Basin
    R828675C005 Development and Evaluation of Chemical Indicators for Monitoring Ecological Risk