Only to be used in relation to Alex's work / research

An international team of scientists has been praised for their work highlighting the effect of chemical pollutants on wildlife

29 November 2022


An international team of scientists have received an award for their work examining the impact of chemical pollution in the environment for the second year running.

In 2019, the 30 experts gathered at the German Environment Agency (UBA) in Dessau for a scientific forum where they formed a united agreement of concern about chemical pollutants and set up a roadmap to help protect wildlife.  

Until then, the effect of chemical pollution on Earth’s ecosystems had been studied and risk assessed in relation to species survival and how well it reproduces and grows. The effects of chemical pollutants on behaviour had been suspected but never formally tested or used to assess the risk of contaminants in the environment.

The scientists are not just concerned about the obvious pollutants such pharmaceutical drugs leaking into the environment but they also warn about the potential unknowns such as chemicals in plastics, washing agents, personal care products, and as well industrial contaminants.   

The conclusions of their work have since been published in two papers, both co-led by Professor Alex Ford, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth.

The first study, which explored how behavioural studies could be used in regulatory decision-making, won the award for best paper 2020 in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Sciences: Processes and Impacts.

The second, published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology journal, warned that chemical pollutants in the environment have the potential to alter animal and human behaviour. It has now been named as best paper of 2021 in the publication’s Feature/Perspective/Viewpoint category.

This was an important piece of work, which we hoped would serve as a roadmap for how we deal and assess the risk posed by chemical pollutants that affect wildlife behaviour.

Professor Alex Ford, School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth

Commenting on the win, Professor Ford said: “We are delighted that this paper has been given this prestigious recognition and it was a privilege to have worked with so many leading international scientists in the field of regulatory toxicology, ecotoxicology and risk assessment. 

“This was an important piece of work, which we hoped would serve as a roadmap for how we deal and assess the risk posed by chemical pollutants that affect wildlife behaviour.”

Since the forum took place, the team has come up with a roadmap they are urging policy makers, regulatory authorities, and environmental leaders to act upon.  

The recommendations are:

  • Improve the mechanisms of how science studies contaminated-induced behavioural changes. 
  • Develop new and adapt existing standard toxicity tests to include behaviour.
  • Develop an integrative approach to environmental risk assessment, which includes behaviour.  Not just mortality, growth and reproduction.  
  • Improve the reliability of behavioural tests, which need to allow for variation in behavioural reactions.  
  • Develop guidance and training on the evaluation of reporting of behavioural studies.
  • Better integration of human and wildlife behavioural toxicology.  

Professor Ford’s previous research has highlighted the effects of antidepressants on wildlife. He is currently researching a wide range of pollutants on aquatic ecosystems, including the effects of cocaine on marine animal behaviour