The protection of biological diversity by using the variation in sensitivity of species for toxic substances

Reinecke, A. J. ; Reinecke, S. A. (2004)

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Efforts to develop generally applicable criteria or standards for environmental quality for the purpose of protecting South Africa’s rich biodiversity are normally hampered by the fact that species can differ considerably in their sensitivity to toxic substances. Direct extrapolation from one species to another is therefore not possible. By actually using this variation in sensitivity of species, the assessment of risk posed by contaminants may be placed on a more rigorous scientific footing. This concept holds that if quality criteria are accepted which would protect the most sensitive species, all other species are automatically protected. This article focuses on the use of sensitivity distributions of species as method and critically reviews the nature and applications of extrapolation models which are based on these distributions. Their possible use and arguments for and against such use are discussed. The conclusion is drawn that species sensitivity distributions have useful applications but data on the sensitivities of local species are scarce. Although already useful, this methodology can find more general application in South Africa if more research is undertaken to obtain reliable toxicity data for different species. In order to do that standardized toxicity tests for local species will have to be developed.

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