International experts meet to evaluate the impacts of pollution on wildlife behaviour

Pollution in a river

Studies highlight a wide range of chemicals present in the environment can alter the behaviour of wildlife

  • 18 October 2019
  • 2 min read

There are an increasing number of studies that highlight a wide range of chemicals present in the environment can alter the behaviour of wildlife.

Professor Alex Ford from the University of Portsmouth and a team of international experts are hosting a workshop at the German Environmental Agency (UBA) headquarters in Dessau, from 30 October to 1 November, which aims to improve the use of behavioural data in environmental toxicology. Currently, there is no or very little behavioural data incorporated into international policy or risk assessment of new chemicals. Regulation of new chemicals undergoes a relatively simple battery of toxicity tests which determine whether they may impact to growth, reproduction and death.

Professor Ford said: “At this meeting we aim to bring together some of the worlds leading experts in behavioural toxicology, risk assessment and representatives of international environment agencies. It’s a great opportunity to assess where we are in terms of our scientific knowledge and where we need to be in terms of robustness of our scientific evidence. We need to better understand what each biologists, regulators and policy makers need to do to best safeguard the aquatic environment.”


Professor Alex Ford

It’s a great opportunity to assess where we are in terms of our scientific knowledge and where we need to be in terms of robustness of our scientific evidence. We need to better understand what each biologists, regulators and policy makers need to do to best safeguard the aquatic environment.

Professor Alex Ford

Dr Marlene Ågerstrand, from Stockholm University and co-organiser of the event, said: “Lack of transparency in chemicals regulation prevents us from fully knowing and understanding current use of behavioural studies in decision-making. But what we do know is that the use is low. The knowledge that the scientific community has on this topic is not transferred into policy.”

Dr Gerd Maack, from the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and host of the event, said: “We are delighted to be hosting this event at UBA, we have experts and regulators from across the globe. We hope this event helps scaling down the blind spot of pollution on wildlife behaviour in the regulations of chemicals. ”
Professor Bryan Brooks, of Baylor University (USA), who works internationally on intersections of environment and health, added: “With the recent Global Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which indicates unprecedented global losses of biodiversity, it is imperative to engage experts from diverse disciplines and basic and translational backgrounds to more sustainability manage environmental quality. This first of its kind exercise promises to chart a path to advance understanding and applications of behaviour and environmental stressors.”

Professor Ford’s previous research has highlighted the effects of antidepressants on wildlife. He is currently researching the effects of cocaine in aquatic ecosystems.


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