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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2012

From individuals to populations: impacts of environmental pollution on natural eelpout populations.

Bergek S, Ma Q, Vetemaa M, Franzén F, Appelberg M


Investigating how individuals are affected by environmental pollution is relatively straightforward, for example through conducting field studies or laboratory toxicity tests. Exploring such effects at a population level is considerably more difficult. Nonetheless, the exploration of population-level effects is important as the outcomes may differ from those seen at the individual level. Eelpout (Zoarces viviparus L.) have been used for several years as a bioindicator for hazard substances in both the field and laboratory tests, and individual effects on reproduction have been reported. However, the influence of these effects at the population level remained unexplored. In this study, four Leslie matrix models were parameterized using data from non-polluted eelpout populations (Skagerrak, Baltic Proper, Gulf of Bothnia and Gulf of Finland). The four sites represent an environmental gradient in salinity. Furthermore, life-history data revealed differences between the sites with growth rate, fecundity, age at maturity and longevity being the most significant. The effect of pollution on natural eelpout populations was then simulated by combining the outputs from the Leslie matrices with data from laboratory and field studies exploring reproductive impairment in contaminated environments. Our results show that despite differences in life-history characteristics between sites, survival of early life stages (i.e. larvae and zero-year-old fish) was the most important factor affecting population growth and persistence for all sites. The range of change in survival of larvae necessary to change population dynamics (i.e. growth) and persistence is well within the range documented in recipient and experimental studies of chemicals and industrial waste waters. Overall, larval malformation resulting from environmental pollution can have large effects on natural populations, leading to population losses and possibly even extinction. This study hereby contributes valuable knowledge by extending individual-level effects of environmental contaminants to the population level.


Population model; Leslie matrix; Zoarces viviparus L.; Bioindicator; Population-level effects

Published in

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
2012, Volume: 79, pages: 1-12