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Paleo-ecotoxicology: What Can Lake Sediments Tell Us about Ecosystem Responses to Environmental Pollutants?

Korosi, Jennifer B., Thienpont, Joshua R., Smol, John P., Blais, Jules M.
Environmental Science & Technology 2017 v.51 no.17 pp. 9446-9457
sediments, limnology, acidification, environmental impact, geochemistry, ecotoxicology, acid deposition, lakes, paleontology, long term effects, weight-of-evidence, pollutants, hatching, genomics, emissions, ecosystems, risk reduction, eggs, toxicity, prediction
The development of effective risk reduction strategies for aquatic pollutants requires a comprehensive understanding of toxic impacts on ecosystems. Classical toxicological studies are effective for characterizing pollutant impacts on biota in a controlled, simplified environment. Nonetheless, it is well-acknowledged that predictions based on the results of these studies must be tested over the long-term in a natural ecosystem setting to account for increased complexity and multiple stressors. Paleolimnology (the study of lake sediment cores to reconstruct environmental change) can address many key knowledge gaps. When used as part of a weight-of-evidence framework with more traditional approaches in ecotoxicology, it can facilitate rapid advances in our understanding of the chronic effects of pollutants on ecosystems in an environmentally realistic, multistressor context. Paleolimnology played a central role in the Acid Rain debates, as it was instrumental in demonstrating industrial emissions caused acidification of lakes and associated ecosystem-wide impacts. “Resurrection Ecology” (hatching dormant resting eggs deposited in the past) records evolutionary responses of populations to chronic pollutant exposure. With recent technological advances (e.g., geochemistry, genomic approaches), combined with an emerging paleo-ecotoxicological framework that leverages strengths across multiple disciplines, paleolimnology will continue to provide valuable insights into the most pressing questions in ecotoxicology.