ChemPop Project: Does the discharge of chemicals to the environment harm wildlife populations?

Project Lead: Prof. Andrew Johnson

Grant Awarded: £1.9M

Core research questions

The problem

The use and emission of chemicals is currently regulated using an approach which sets limits almost exclusively based on evidence from laboratory studies of toxicity to individual organisms (e.g. LD50). This approach is considered flawed because individual-level toxicity may be unrepresentative of impacts at the population level, especially given the wide uncertainty in the actual levels to which wild animals are exposed. Our proposal is designed to address this important knowledge gap across three types of environments; terrestrial, freshwater and marine (Figure 1).

Our aim

We will deliver the most comprehensive assessment yet attempted, across UK freshwater, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, of whether current chemical pollution is a key factor impacting wildlife populations and associated ecosystem services. By capitalising on the open-source, long-term population data available for UK wildlife, we will compare exposures that populations experience with the trigger values in current regulatory assessments. Our approach relates demographic and community changes to the predicted magnitude of chemical exposure. Furthermore, the inherent spatial and temporal variation in the population datasets will be key in teasing out exposure (dose)-response relationships and in assessing their importance relative to the effects of other major drivers. Exposure will be to real-world chemical mixtures and we will explore not only their impacts on populations but where these occur and how they translate through to effects on ecosystem services. Specifically, we will focus on scenarios where either wildlife declines are greatest, target populations are in a considerable state of flux, or assessments indicate significant chemical risk. This will deliver a step-change in understanding, since it will represent the first evidence-based assessment of whether current regulation is over-, under-, or appropriately protective of wildlife populations, and will thereby inform and underpin future development of regulatory approaches (Figure 2).

Fig.1 Introduction to the ChemPop vision

Fig.2 Introduction to the ChemPop work packages

Videos linked to this project

Professor Andrew Johnson (UKCEH) ChemPop Project update focusing on work to date on terrestrial invertebrates (April 2021)

Professor Andrew Johnson (UKCEH) ChemPop Freshwater environment progress report (April 2021)

Rosie Williams (ZLS) ChemPop Marine focused project update (April 2021)

Papers linked to the project which have been published so far

Johnson, A.C. (2019) Is freshwater macroinvertebrate biodiversity being harmed by synthetic chemicals in municipal wastewater? Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, 11, 8-12.

Johnson, A.C. (2019) The necessity for wildlife population studies to assess real chemical impacts. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, 11, A1_A3.

Shore, R.F., Taggart, M.A. 2019. Population level impacts of chemical contaminants on apex avian species. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health 11 65–70.

Mancini, F., Woodcock, B.A., Isaac, N.J.B. (2019). Agrochemicals in the wild: Identifying links between pesticide use and declines of nontarget organisms. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health 11. 53-58

Johnson, A.C., Jin, X., Nakada, N. Sumpter, J.P. (2020). Learning from the past and considering the future of chemicals in the environment. Science, 367, 384-387