University of Gothenburg

Aquatic ecotoxicology

Focus within the main research area is on different aspects on how aquatic organism, from bacteria to fish, are affected by pollutants.

Around ten senior researchers work within the field of aquatic ecotoxicology, divided between a couple of larger research groups.

What is ecotoxicology?

Ecotoxicology is the science about those structures, processes and interactions that explain how toxic compounds affect ecosystems. Ecotoxicology involves both fate and effects of contaminants and can be practiced at all levels of biological organisation (e.g. enzyme, cell, individual, population, community). 

Ecotoxicology includes both fundamental and applied science. It has an interdisciplinary character rooted in biology, chemistry, toxicology, statistics but also strong connections to social sciences.

Why ecotoxicology?

Modern society depend on the use of chemicals and never before has the usage of chemicals been larger than today. Hundred thousand of chemicals are used for myriads of commercial purposes around the globe. Eventually, many of these end up in aquatic systems that serves as sinks for complex mixtures of chemicals. 

Ecotoxicology provides strategies and tools for assessing the toxicity of chemicals and chemical products, and for detecting effects in the ecosystems caused by pollutants.

What are we studying?

Ecotoxicological studies range from the biochemical mechanisms of toxicity of individual toxicants to the combined effects on populations and communities caused by the chemical cocktails present in the ecosystems. Much of our research is focused on different types of aquatic organisms and ecosystems, marine as well as limnic.

Recent areas of development in ecotoxicology are towards cellular in vitro testing and ecotoxicogenomics, and towards ecological realism recognizing the full chemical and biological complexity of pollution situations. This development is in concordance with the regulatory changes in EU with the ongoing implementation of REACH regulation, the Water Framework Directive and other management incentives in Europe and globally such as SAICM (Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management).

Researchers (PI:s)

Thomas Backhaus
Bethanie Carney Almroth
Malin Celander
Nathalia Corcoll Cornet
Ingela Dahllöf
Lars Förlin
Pedro Inostroza
Tobias Lammel
Joachim Sturve

More about our projects

Cell- and single species ecotoxicology 

We study cultured cells from different trophic levels (sub organismal to microorganisms such as algae and bacteria). Focus is on assessment of toxicity and exploration of toxicological mechanisms in cells exposed to every-day-chemicals, legacy chemicals, pesticides, biocides, and particulate materials. To identify the chemical’s modes-of-actions and their adverse outcome pathways, we develop new models including 3D-cell culture systems and assays. We also assess mixture toxicity and chemical interactions of environmental contaminants using established mathematical models and new models based on data from cell studies. 

Community ecotoxicology 

Community ecotoxicology arises from the need to assess and predict effects of contaminants on the level of ecological communities and whole ecosystems with the stated goals to protect ecosystem structure and function. We work with benthic and planktonic communities in freshwater and marine systems. These include bacterial and algal biofilms, periphyton, bacterio-, phyto-, and zooplankton, and invertebrates or meiofauna in sediments. 

To improve our understanding of ecological effects we study effects on species diversity, primary and secondary production, nutrient cycles, biomagnification, community tolerance, and food-web interactions. Our aim is to provide ecological relevant assessments of stressors, as well as develop novel ways of assessing the impacts of contaminants on ecosystem responses, with applications for biomonitoring and/or environmental risk assessment. 

Environmental status and monitoring

In this topic, we develop and adapt effect-based monitoring tools and solution-focused assessment instruments for real-world exposure situations all of which characterized by the presence of hundreds or thousands of different contaminating chemicals. The biological effect monitoring tools (also called biomarkers) are regularly applied to indicate the ecotoxicity of unknown or known chemicals in the environment and to describe the state of health in organisms and the aquatic environment.


Omic approaches (genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic) provide a mechanistic understanding of chemical toxicity and used to improve environmental risk assessment.

Our research spans from microorganisms to fish and we aim to assess the adverse effects of chemicals and mixtures of chemicals from a mechanistic perspective. We focus on different levels of biological organization (from genes to communities) targeting model and non-model organisms. Our goal is to provide integrative tools to understand the cause-effect relationship between chemicals and biological responses and to detect damage and risks to the environment.

Risk assessment, management and policy interactions

Our research contributes to both the retrospective assessment of chemicals (“Is it a reason for concern that we find this particular mixture of chemicals in this river?”) and to prospective assessments (“Is it really a good idea to start using this chemical in this consumer product?”). To answer such questions, we need to define data requirements and develop strategies for data assessment and analysis, data quality evaluation and the prioritization of chemicals. In particular, we develop strategies on how to handle the overwhelming complexity of chemical exposure that occur in any given environment. We regularly provide expert knowledge to, and interact with national and international regulatory bodies such as the Swedish Chemicals Agency KEMI, UN Environment, the EU Commission, and civil society at large.

Stressors - chemical substances, mixtures and particles 

We study the ecotoxicity and toxicity of anthropogenic stressors, mainly chemicals and particles, in aquatic systems. Chemicals that we are interested in include pesticides, pharmaceuticals, biocides, plastic-associated chemicals, endocrine disrupters and various persistent organic pollutants (POPs), as well as chemicals found in consumer products and fuels. We also study microplastics and nanoparticles, as both of these groups of emerging contaminants are similar in that they defined by a size dimension, but differ in terms of materials (i.e. plastic polymers or carbon or metal particles). Given that neither chemicals nor particles occur in the environment as single, isolated entities, we are interested in investigating the joint toxicity of chemical mixtures and the interaction of chemicals with particles. At times, we also include other environmental stressors such as eutrophication, ocean acidification, and climate change, in our ecotoxicological studies.