Identifying ecological production functions for use in ecosystem services-based environmental risk assessment of chemicals

Faber, Jack; Marshall, S.; Brown, A.R.; Holt, A.; van den Brink, P.J.; Maltby, L.


There is increasing research interest in the application of the ecosystem services (ES) concept in the environmental risk assessment of chemicals to support formulating and operationalising regulatory environmental protection goals and making environmental risk assessment more policy- and value-relevant. This requires connecting ecosystem structure and processes to ecosystem function and henceforth to provision of ecosystem goods and services and their economic valuation. Ecological production functions (EPFs) may help to quantify these connections in a transparent manner and to predict ES provision based on function-related descriptors for service providing species, communities, ecosystems or habitats. We review scientific literature for EPFs to evaluate availability across provisioning and regulation and maintenance services (CICES v5.1 classification). We found quantitative production functions for nearly all ES, often complemented with economic valuation of physical or monetary flows. We studied the service providing units in these EPFs to evaluate the potential for extrapolation of toxicity data for test species obtained from standardised testing to ES provision. A broad taxonomic representation of service providers was established, but quantitative models directly linking standard test species to ES provision were extremely scarce. A pragmatic way to deal with this data gap would be the use of proxies for related taxa and stepwise functional extrapolation to ES provision and valuation, which we conclude possible for most ES. We suggest that EPFs may be used in defining specific protection goals (SPGs), and illustrate, using pollination as an example, the availability of information for the ecological entity and attribute dimensions of SPGs. Twenty-five pollination EPFs were compiled from the literature for biological entities ranging from ‘colony’ to ‘habitat’, with 75% referring to ‘functional group’. With about equal representation of the attributes ‘function’, ‘abundance’ and ‘diversity’, SPGs for pollination therefore would seem best substantiated by EPFs at the level of functional group.