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Environmental Subcommittee Develops Draft on Wildlife Exposure Using Habitat Suitability Index

When scientists and government representatives study industrial and agricultural effects on the environment, they use ecological risk assessments that consider wildlife populations. Such studies need to be done because of federal laws such as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

A new standards development activity focuses on including habitat in such ecological risk assessments. Subcommittee E47.02 on Terrestrial Assessment and Toxicology, a part of Committee E47 on Biological Effects and Environmental Fate, is developing a draft Standard Guide for Estimating Wildlife Exposure Using Habitat Suitability Index to take into consideration the effects of habitat quality on wildlife species. Because conventional ecological risk assessments do not adequately factor in species use based on habitat quality, they may overestimate risk for some animals and underestimate it for others.

“Explicit consideration of landscape features to characterize the quality of habitat for assessment species can enhance the ecological relevance of an ecological risk assessment,” notes E47.02 chairman Lawrence Kapustka, president and senior ecotoxicologist at ecological planning and toxicology in Corvallis, Ore. “Greater ecological realism and more informed management decisions can be realized through better use of landscape features to characterize sites,” he adds.

Many habitat suitability index models exist, and they will provide information for the standard, as will work that Kapustka and collaborators accomplished under a grant from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Long Range Research Initiative Ecosystem Dynamics Program. Such factors as foraging behavior and residence time, which relate to landscape features — vegetation and physiognomy — will be considered in the draft, which will be a guide that provides a framework for incorporating habitat quality into calculating exposure levels for use in ecological risk assessments.

For further technical information, contact Lawrence Kapustka, president and senior ecotoxicologist, ecological planning and toxicology in Corvallis, Ore. (phone: 541/752-3707). E47 meets April 18-22 in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the April Committee Week. For meeting and membership details, contact Scott Orthey, manager, Technical Committee Operations, ASTM International (610/ 832-9730). //

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