The difference between temperate and tropical saltwater species' acute sensitivity to chemicals is relatively small

Zhen Wang, Wing Hin Kevin Patrick Kwok, Gilbert C.S. Lui, Guang Jie Zhou, Jae Seong Lee, Michael H.W. Lam, Kenneth M.Y. Leung

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Due to a lack of saltwater toxicity data in tropical regions, toxicity data generated from temperate or cold water species endemic to North America and Europe are often adopted to derive water quality guidelines (WQG) for protecting tropical saltwater species. If chemical toxicity to most saltwater organisms increases with water temperature, the use of temperate species data and associated WQG may result in under-protection to tropical species. Given the differences in species composition and environmental attributes between tropical and temperate saltwater ecosystems, there are conceivable uncertainties in such 'temperate-to-tropic' extrapolations. This study aims to compare temperate and tropical saltwater species' acute sensitivity to 11 chemicals through a comprehensive meta-analysis, by comparing species sensitivity distributions (SSDs) between the two groups. A 10 percentile hazardous concentration (HC10) is derived from each SSD, and then a temperate-to-tropic HC10 ratio is computed for each chemical. Our results demonstrate that temperate and tropical saltwater species display significantly different sensitivity towards all test chemicals except cadmium, although such differences are small with the HC10 ratios ranging from 0.094 (un-ionised ammonia) to 2.190 (pentachlorophenol) only. Temperate species are more sensitive to un-ionised ammonia, chromium, lead, nickel and tributyltin, whereas tropical species are more sensitive to copper, mercury, zinc, phenol and pentachlorophenol. Through comparison of a limited number of taxon-specific SSDs, we observe that there is a general decline in chemical sensitivity from algae to crustaceans, molluscs and then fishes. Following a statistical analysis of the results, we recommend an extrapolation factor of two for deriving tropical WQG from temperate information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-43
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Environmental risk assessment
  • Saltwater ecosystems
  • Species sensitivity distributions (SSDs)
  • Taxon-specific SSDs
  • Water quality guidelines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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