Ostroumov S.A. Criteria of ecological hazards due to anthropogenic effects on the biota: searching for a system. - Doklady Biological Sciences, 2000. 371: 204-206

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Doklady Biological Sciences, Vol. 371, 2000, pp. 204–206. Translated from Doklady Akademii Nauk, Vol. 371, No. 6, 2000, pp. 844–846.Original Russian Text Copyright © 2000 by Ostroumov.

Criteria of Ecological Hazards Due to Anthropogenic Effects on the Biota: Searching for a System

S. A. Ostroumov

Presented by Academician V.N. Bol’shakov November 27, 1998

Received March 19, 1999

Among the multiplicity of characteristics of anthropogenic factors affecting the biota [1–3], researchers distinguish the most important parameters and criteria characterizing negative anthropogenic effects [3, 4], including the effects of chemical factors [5–8]. Development and systematization of these criteria are far from completion.

The purpose of this work is to describe approaches to improvement of a system of criteria of ecologicalhazards due to anthropogenic effects on the biota and to consider some new experimental data on the effects of surfactant xenobiotics on living organisms.

Criteria of ecological hazards due to chemicals have been developed in terms of the estimation of toxic contamination of ecosystems [1, 2, 4, 6, 8]. The classification of chemicals according to their ecological hazards now accepted in the European Union is based on the following three criteria [9].

(1) Acute toxicity estimated from LC50for three groups of organisms: fish, algae, and daphnia.

(2) Susceptibility of the substance to biological decomposition in water. This is determined with the use of laboratory tests under aerobic conditions. Substance sare decomposed by microorganisms, and their decomposition is accompanied by oxygen consumption. If a substance is quickly decomposed (oxidized)by microorganisms, it is not considered to be hazardous to the environment. Exceptions are compounds with a high acute toxicity (with and LC50 less than 10 mg/l)and a high bioaccumulation potential (see the next criterion).

(3) The substance’s capacity for bioaccumulation. This capacity is considered to be hazardously high if the bioaccumulation factor (BCF) is higher than 100, or the logarithm of the distribution coefficient of the substance in the octanol–water system (logPow) is higher than 3.

A disadvantage of this set of criteria is an under estimation of other aspects of ecological hazards due to contamination of a water body with the given chemical, e.g., the hazard of a decrease in waterO2 concentration due to oxygen consumption by microorganisms during oxidation of xenobiotics. Behavioral changes in living organisms because of interaction of the pollutant with their receptors [1, 10] is also beyond the scope of this system of criteria. Behavioral changes may occur in the absence of bioaccumulation (i.e., when the substance isnot hazardous according to criterion 3). Changes in behavior may result in migration of certain species from the ecosystem (emigration) and, hence, to a decrease in biodiversity.

Therefore, more comprehensive sets of criteria should be developed.

In some studies [3, 11, 12], anthropogenic effects on the natural environment are classified in terms of thelevels of biological organization. We suggest a new set of criteria (Table 1), in which anthropogenic effects onthe biota are systematized based on the same approach.

A characteristic feature of the system of criteria shown in Table 1 is the division of the multiplicity of anthropogenic effects into orderly groups according to four levels of biota disturbance. Most of the traditionally studied toxic effects (an increased mortality, ontogenetic disturbances, organ pathology, etc.) fall in the group corresponding to the level of individual and population responses (level 1). Alterations in primary productivity,water concentration of chlorophyll, etc., correspond to the level of aggregated responses (level 2).Alterations at the level of ecosystem stability and integrity(level 3) are important but have not been sufficiently studied. These are, among others, disturbances in the self-purification capacity of water systems [13],i.e., their ability to sustain the parameters of the aquatic environment. The last group (level 4) comprises alterations in the contribution of ecosystems to biospheric processes, including biogeochemical flows of chemical elements (C, N, P, and S).

This approach agrees with the views of other authors [6, 14] and is useful for developing an adequate system of estimation and classification of anthropogenic effects, including environmental pollutants, with respect to ecological hazards.

An important constituent of the proposed system for analysis of ecological hazards is estimation of hazardous effects on the stability and integrity of an ecosystem, e.g., the hazard due to weakening the relationship between plankton and benthos. If an anthropogenic effect weakens this relationship in a given ecosystem, the consequences are expected to be unfavorable [13].An example of such a situation is the decrease in the water filtration rate and elimination of seston by some filter-feeding organisms, such as bivalves, because their filtration activity is one of the important mechanisms of maintaining the plankton–benthos conjugation. It would be important to estimate the possible effect of pollutants on the molluscan filtration activity.

Table 1. The level–block approach to analysis of ecological hazards due to anthropogenic effects on the biota


Disturbance level

Examples of disturbances and their consequences (some of them may be assigned to different levels)


Individual and population responses

Toxic effects on individual species (increased mortality, decreased fertility, ontogenetic disturbances, diseases, etc.), changes in morphological and physiological variability, and behavioral changes



Aggregated (superorganismal) responses

Changes in primary productivity, aggregated parameters of biomass, and water chlorophyll and dissolved O concentrations



Ecosystem stability and integrity

Rearrangements and/or weakening of plankton–benthos connections; rearrangements and/or weakening of links in the food web Changes in the level of bacterial destruction; decrease in water clarification/ elimination of particles from water; decrease in water self-purification Decrease in regulatory effects because of the loss, migration, or trophi passivity of organisms belonging to higher trophic levels


Ecosystem contribution to biospheric processes

Changes in C flows (e.g., sedimentation of pellets formed by filter-feeding organisms) and N flows (e.g., nitrogen fixation), as well as in flows and cycles of other elements, including S and P; changes in energy (heat etc.) flows


Filtration of water and absorption of phyto- and bacterioplankton and other suspended matter from it by molluscans, as well as formation and excretion of fecaland pseudofecal pellets are important for processes occurring in an aquatic ecosystem [13]. Inhibition of filtration by xenobiotics may, in turn, induce other disturbancesat several organizational levels (see Table 1) of the ecosystem. Examples of such disturbances are a decrease in water filtration by other hydrobionts, decrease in water transparency and the resultant decrease in penetration of photosynthetically active radiation and ultraviolet light, deterioration of the conditions for phytobenthos, excessive growth of phyto and bacterioplankton, disturbances in the regulation of the composition of the algal–bacterial community, increase in detritus formation and siltage of benthichabitats, imbalance of the food web of phytoplankton consumers, decrease in the population growth of filter feeding organisms, decrease in the number of planktophagouslarvae and deformation of the food web, and decrease in Corg deposition and concentration in bottom sediments [13].

An important question is whether surfactants, which heavily contaminate environment and have not been sufficiently studied with respect to possible effects on organisms, may suppress filtration [5, 7].

Data obtained by Donkin and myself in experiments on Mytilus edulis(unpublished) indicate that surfactants may disturb the plankton–benthos conjugation. Some surfactants, such as a nonionic surfactant TritonX-100 (TX; an alkylphenol derivative), decrease the rates of water filtration and elimination of algae from water by mussels (Table 2). In the presence of 0.5 mg/lTX, the concentration of algal cells after 90 min of filtration was 1092 cells per 0.5 ml of water versus 532cells per 0.5 ml of water in the control sample (Table 2).In other words, an excess of algae as a result of filtration suppression was more than twofold (205.3%).If the TX concentration was increased to 2 mg/l, the concentration of algae after filtration was 2635 cells per0.5 ml versus 556 cells per 0.5 ml in the control sample, i.e., the excess was almost fivefold (473.9%). Thus, inhibition increased with an increase in the surfactant concentration. These results agree with the data on the effects of other chemical compounds [13].

Table 2. Amount of algae Isochrysis galbana in flasks containing mussels Mytilus edulis after 90 min of water filtration by the molluscans in the presence or absence of Triton X-100 (TX100, 0.5 mg/l)


No. of the flask

Presence or

absence of

TX100 (0.5 mg/l)

Number of algal

cells in 0.5 ml

of the medium

The average

number of algal

cells in 0.5 ml

of the medium



427; 451; 468




335; 338; 362




795; 766; 819




2806; 2743; 2793



The average number of cells in 0.5 ml for four flasks with TX100- containing medium (flasks 1, 3, 5, 7)

1091.9 (standard error, 298.3)


727; 684; 716



347; 337; 348



359; 398; 456



638; 659; 716



The average number of cells in 0.5 ml

for four control flasks (flasks 2, 4, 6, 8)

532.1 (standard error, 48.9)

Note: The difference between experimental and control values were significant at the 95% significance level according to Student’s t -test (p = 0.044). Conditions: the average initial concentration of cells, 13372 per 0.5 ml; temperature, 16 °C. Cells were counted using the Culter counter. The average reading of counter in sea water was 673.7. Sixteen mussels weighing 7.2 to 9.2 g (wet weight with a shell) were used.


The system of criteria shown in Table 1 simplifies and systematizes the analysis of the ecological role and consequences of disturbance of a given physiological function (in this case, disturbance of water filtration in molluscans). If we go sequentially from level to level, the suggested system will make it possible to follow the range of ecological consequences of a primary disturbance at an individual level that manifests itself at higher levels of organization in an ecologically hazardous form.

In the given example, the change in the organism’s physiological activity is the directly observable effect of the xenobiotic. However, we can estimate the ecological hazards more accurately if we consider the processes occurring at levels 3 (a decrease in seston elimination from water and a decrease in the plankton–benthos conjugation) and 4 (a decrease in the formation and excretion of pellets formed from strained algal cells).

Other examples [1, 8, 11, 12, 14] confirm the effectiveness of the approach proposed (Table 1) for the analysis of ecological hazards due to anthropogenic effects on the biota.

The proposed level–block approach to analysis of ecological hazards of anthropogenic alterations in ecosystems allows the multiplicity of anthropogenic effects on the biota to be systematized. This approach may be used to develop criteria for estimation and classification of ecological hazards due to anthropogenic effects.


I am grateful to P. Donkin for collaboration and .A.I. Azovskii, V.I. Artyukhova, D.A. Krivolutskii, A.D. Pokarzhevskii, Yu.I. Chernov, V.A. Abakumov, A.S. Konstantinov, and A.O. Kasumyan for fruitful discussion and comments on the material.

This study was supported by MacArthur Foundation. Collection of some data was supported by EERO.


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ADDENDUM made when the paper was put at the website:

The studies made by the author after publishing this paper confirmed the main concepts and conclusions. The new results of the author were published:

[1] S. A. Ostroumov   The Synecological Approach to the Problem of Eutrophication   [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.381, #1-6; pp.559-562)].


[2] S. A. Ostroumov; M. P. Kolesnikov Pellets of Some Mollusks in the Biogeochemical Flows of C, N, P, Si, and Al  [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.379, #1-6; pp.378-381)].


[3] New Definitions of the Concepts and Terms Ecosystem and Biogeocenosis by S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.383, #1-6; pp.141-143)].


[4] S. A. Ostroumov On the Biotic Self-purification of Aquatic Ecosystems: Elements of the Theory  [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.396, #1-6; pp.206-211)].


[5] S. A. Ostroumov Inhibitory Analysis of Regulatory Interactions in Trophic Webs [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.377, #1-6; pp.139-141)].


[6] S. A. Ostroumov Effect of Amphiphilic Chemicals on Filter-Feeding Marine Organisms  [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.378, #1-6; pp.248-250)].


[7] S. A. Ostroumov The Hazard of a Two-Level Synergism of Synecological Summation of Anthropogenic Effects  [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.380, #1-6; pp.499-501)].


[8] S. A. Ostroumov; N. Walz; R. Rusche. Effect of a Cationic Amphiphilic Compound on Rotifers  [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.390, #1-6; pp.252-255)].


[9] Biodiversity Protection and Quality of Water: The Role of Feedbacks in Ecosystems by S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.382, #1-6; pp.18-21)].


[10] A New Type of Effect of Potentially Hazardous Substances: Uncouplers of Pelagial–Benthal Coupling by S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.383, #1-6; pp.127-130)].


[11] System of Principles for Conservation of the Biogeocenotic Function and the Biodiversity of Filter-Feeders  by S. A. Ostroumov   [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.383, #1-6; pp.147-150)]. Ostroumov  S. A.  System of Principles for Conservation of the Biogeocenotic Function and the Biodiversity of Filter-Feeders. -   Doklady Biological Sciences, Vol. 383, 2002, pp. 147–150. Translated from Doklady Akademii Nauk, Vol. 383, No. 5, 2002, pp. 710–714. Original Russian Text Copyright © 2002 by Ostroumov. PMID: 12053567 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]




[12] Imbalance of Factors Providing Control of Unicellular Plankton Populations Exposed to Anthropogenic Impact by S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.379, #1-6; pp.341-343)].


[13] Responses of Unio tumidus to Mixed Chemical Preparations and the Hazard of Synecological Summation of Anthropogenic Effects by S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.380, #1-6; pp.492-495)].


[14] Accelerated decrease in surfactant concentration in the water of a microcosm in the presence of plants: Innovations for phytotechnology by E. V. Lazareva; S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.425, #1; pp.180-182)].


[15] On studying the hazards of pollution of the biosphere: Effects of sodium dodecylsulfate (SDS) on planktonic filter-feeders by I. M. Vorozhun; S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.425, #1; pp.133-134)].


[16] Identification of a New Type of Ecological Hazard of Chemicals: Inhibition of Processes of Ecological Remediation by S. A. Ostroumov [Doklady Biological Sciences (v.385, #1-6; pp.377-379)].


 [17] An Amphiphilic Substance Inhibits the Mollusk Capacity to Filter out Phytoplankton Cells from Water  by S. A. Ostroumov   [Biology Bulletin (v.28, #1; pp.95-102)]. Abstract: The effect of synthetic anionic surface active substance (SAS) sodium dodecylsulfate (SDS, 4 mg/l) on the kinetics of water filtration by mussel Mytilus edulis was studied. A suspension of algae Isochrysis galbana was added to the vessel with the mussels, and their filtration activity was measured by counting the concentration of the algae cells in the experimental vessels. Algae concentration was measured every 30 min for an hour and a half. The inhibiting effect on the mollusk filtration rate (FR) was qualitatively described. After the first 30 min filtration at 4 mg/l initial SDS concentration, the cell density was 322% of the control. The inhibiting effect was observed later as well. Due to FR inhibition in the vessels with the above specified initial SDS concentration, the algae cell density was 6.4 and 14.7 times that of the control after 1 and 1.5 h, respectively. Thus, SAS SDS can decrease the natural capacity of aquatic ecosystems for self-purification and disturb other aspects of ecosystem functioning through inhibiting the filtration activity of mussels. The obtained data are discussed in the context of environment and hydrosphere protection from pollution.


The following publications were not numbered:


Aquatic ecosystem as a bioreactor: water purification and some other functions.

Ostroumov SA.

Riv Biol. 2004, 97(1):67-78. PMID: 15648211 [PubMed - indexed]


Medium-term and long-term priorities in ecological studies.

Ostroumov S.A., Dodson S.I., Hamilton D., Peterson S.A., Wetzel R.G.

Riv Biol. 2003, 96(2):327-32.  PMID: 14595906 [PubMed]


Anthropogenic effects on the biota: towards a new system of principles and criteria for analysis of ecological hazards.

Ostroumov SA.

Riv Biol. 2003,  96(1):159-69. Review. PMID: 12852181 [PubMed – indexed]


[An amphiphilic substance inhibits the mollusk capacity to fliter phytoplankton cells from water]

Ostroumov SA.

Izv Akad Nauk Ser Biol. 2001. (1):108-116. Russian. PMID: 11236572 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]


Biological filtering and ecological machinery for self-purification and bioremediation in aquatic ecosystems: towards a holistic view.

Ostroumov SA.

Riv Biol. 1998;91(2):221-32.  PMID: 9857844 [PubMed – indexed


Inhibitory analysis of top-down control: new keys to studying eutrophication, algal blooms, and water self-purification. Hydrobiologia. 2002. 469:117-129.

Polyfunctional role of biodiversity in processes leading to water purification: current conceptualizations and  concluding remarks. Hydrobiologia. 2002. V. 469 (1-3): 203-204.

Ostroumov S.A. Studying effects of some surfactants and detergents on filter-feeding bivalves  // Hydrobiologia. 2003. Vol. 500. P.341-344  [including effects of surfactants TDTMA and SDS on Crassostrea gigas].

2006 Ostroumov S.A., Widdows J. Inhibition of mussel suspension feeding by surfactants of three classes. - Hydrobiologia. 2006. Vol. 556, No.1. P. 381 – 386.

2006 Ostroumov S.A. Biomachinery for maintaining water quality and natural water self-purification in marine and estuarine systems: elements of a qualitative theory //  International Journal of Oceans and Oceanography.  2006.  Volume 1, No.1. p. 111-118. [ISSN 0973-2667].

2006 Ostroumov S.A.  Biological Effects of Surfactants. CRC Press. Taylor & Francis. Boca Raton, London, New York. 2006. 279 p.

Ostroumov S.A. Some aspects of water filtering activity of filter-feeders // Hydrobiologia. 2005. Vol. 542, No. 1. P. 275 – 286. 

2005 Ostroumov S. A. On the Multifunctional Role of the Biota in the Self-Purification of Aquatic  Ecosystems . - Russian Journal of Ecology, 2005. Vol. 36, No. 6, P. 414-420.

Ostroumov S.A. Suspension-feeders as factors influencing water quality in aquatic ecosystems.   In: The Comparative Roles of Suspension-Feeders in Ecosystems, R.F. Dame,  S. Olenin (Eds),  Springer, Dordrecht,  2004.  pp.  147-164.

Biomachinery for maintaining water quality and natural water self-purification in  marine and estuarine systems: elements of a qualitative theory //  International Journal of Oceans and Oceanography.  2006.  Volume 1, No.1. p.111-118. [ISSN 0973-2667].

Ostroumov S.A. The effect of synthetic surfactants on the hydrobiological mechanisms of water self-purification. - Water Resources. 2004.  Volume 31, Number 5 p. 502-510. DOI 10.1023/B:WARE.0000041919.77628.8d.  [Long-term studies of the biological effect of surfactants, including the effect surfactants exert on filter feeders, are reviewed. The role  of filter feeders in the functioning of freshwater and marine ecosystems is analyzed. New aspects in the assessment of environmental hazard due to the impact of chemical pollutants, including surfactants and detergents, are established].

Ostroumov S. A.  On some issues of maintaining water quality and self-purification.- Water Resources, 2005. Volume 32, Number 3, p. 305-313. [Generalizations presented in this paper represent, in systematized form, the basic elements of the qualitative theory of water self-purification in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Recommendations are given for maintaining water quality and sustainable development of water resources. Results of experimental studies of the effect exerted by the surfactant Triton X-100 and the OMO synthetic detergent on mollusks Unio tumidus]. ISSN 0097-8078 (Print) 1608-344X (Online).  DOI 10.1007/s11268-005-0039-7.

Ostroumov S. A.  Biological Effects of Surfactants. CRC Press. Taylor & Francis. Boca Raton, London, New York. 2006. 279 p. Bibliogr. on pages 203-243  and 250-253. Subject Index: p.255-279. ISBN 0-8493-2526-9.

Ostroumov S.A. Biological filters are an important part of the biosphere // Science in Russia. 2009. № 2. P. 30-36.