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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Understanding Ecological Complexity in a Chemical Stress Context: A Reflection on Recolonization, Recovery, and Adaptation of Aquatic Populations and Communities

Bundschuh, Mirco; Mesquita-Joanes, Francesc; Rico, Andreu; Camacho, Antonio


Recovery, recolonization, and adaptation in a chemical stress context are processes that regenerate local populations and communities as well as the functions these communities perform. Recolonization, either by species previously present or by new species able to occupy the niches left empty, refers to a metacommunity process with stressed ecosystems benefiting from the dispersal of organisms from other areas. A potential consequence of recolonization is a limited capacity of local populations to adapt to potentially repeating events of chemical stress exposure when their niches have been effectively occupied by the new colonizers or by new genetic lineages of the taxa previously present. Recovery, instead, is an internal process occurring within stressed ecosystems. More specifically, the impact of a stressor on a community benefits less sensitive individuals of a local population as well as less sensitive taxa within a community. Finally, adaptation refers to phenotypic and, sometimes, genetic changes at the individual and population levels, allowing the permanence of individuals of previously existing taxa without necessarily changing the community taxonomic composition (i.e., not replacing sensitive species). Because these processes are usually operating in parallel in nature, though at different degrees, it seems relevant to try to understand their relative importance for the regeneration of community structure and ecosystem functioning after chemical exposure. In the present critical perspective, we employed case studies supporting our understanding of the underlying processes with the hope to provide a theoretical framework to disentangle the relevance of the three processes for the regeneration of a biological community after chemical exposure. Finally, we provide some recommendations to experimentally compare their relative importance so that the net effects of these processes can be used to parameterize risk-assessment models and inform ecosystem management. Environ Toxicol Chem 2023;00:1-10. & COPY; 2023 The Authors. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of SETAC.


Adaptation; Chemical stress ecology; Mesocosms; Recolonization; Recovery; Regeneration; Risk assessment

Published in

Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
2023, Volume: 42, number: 9, pages: 1857-1866
Publisher: WILEY

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences

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