Science Inventory

Ecosystem services as assessment endpoints for ecological risk assessment


Munns, Jr., Wayne R., Anne W. Rea, Glenn W. Suter II, L. Martin, L. Blake-Hedges, T. Crk, C. Davis, G. Ferreira, Steve Jordan, M. Mahoney, AND M. Barron. Ecosystem services as assessment endpoints for ecological risk assessment. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, KS, 12(3):522-528, (2016).


This document was prepared by a Technical Panel under the auspices of EPA’s Risk Assessment Forum. The Risk Assessment Forum (the Forum) was established by the Agency to promote scientific consensus on risk assessment issues and incorporate this consensus into appropriate risk assessment guidance. To accomplish this mission, the Forum assembles experts from throughout EPA in a formal process to study and report on these issues from an Agency-wide perspective. This document reflects the Forum’s long-standing commitment to advancing ERA through its Ecological Oversight Committee and is intended to supplement the use of the Forum’s Guidelines for Ecological Risk Assessment (USEPA 1998). Following the publication of the ERA guidelines, the Forum surveyed ecological risk assessors from across the Agency to prioritize and select risk assessment topics for further development. Additional guidance on assessment endpoints emerged as one of the highest priority topics, resulting in the development of the GEAEs (USEPA 2003). A subsequent EPA colloquium sponsored by the Forum to consider high priorities identified a need for additional guidance on incorporating ecosystem services in ERAs across Agency programs (USEPA 2010). As a result, the Ecological Oversight Committee appointed the Technical Panel that developed this document. The primary goal of this background paper is to provide a technical basis for the incorporation of ecosystem services to enhance ERA at EPA, and thereby improve ecological risk management and policy decisions. This document is not a regulation, however, nor is it intended to substitute for federal regulations. It describes general concepts and principles and is not prescriptive. Risk assessors and risk managers at EPA are the primary audience; the document might also be useful to those outside the Agency.


Ecosystem services (ES) are defined as the outputs of ecological processes that contribute to human welfare or have the potential to do so in the future, and include the production of food and drinking water, purification of air and water, pollination, and nutrient cycling. The need to protect the services provided by natural systems has been recognized previously, but ES have not been formally incorporated into ecological risk assessment practice in the United States. Conventional endpoints, derived directly from the state of the ecosystem (e.g., biophysical structure and processes), and endpoints based on ES serve different purposes. Conventional endpoints are ecologically important and susceptible entities and attributes that are protected under US laws and regulations. Ecosystem services endpoints are a conceptual and analytical step beyond conventional endpoints, and are intended to complement conventional endpoints by extending assessment endpoints to services that benefit humans. Conventional endpoints can be related to ES even when the latter were not considered explicitly during problem formulation. To advance the use of ES endpoints in ecological risk assessment (ERA), the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Assessment Forum has added generic ES endpoints (ES-GEAE) to the original 2003 set of generic ecological assessment endpoints (GEAEs). Like conventional GEAEs, ES-GEAEs are defined by an entity and an attribute. Also like conventional GEAEs, ES-GEAEs are broadly described and will need to be made specific when applied to individual assessments. Adoption of ES as a type of assessment endpoint is intended to improve the value of ERA to environmental decision making, linking ecological risk to human welbeing, and providing an improved means of communicating those risks.

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Record Details:

Product Published Date: 06/22/2016
Record Last Revised: 06/27/2016
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 320137