NCEAS Product 13140

Regan, Helen M.; Akçakaya, H. Resit; Ferson, Scott; Root, K. V.; Carroll, S.; Ginzburg, Lev. 2003. Treatments of uncertainty and variability in ecological risk assessment of single-species populations. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment. Vol: 9. Pages 889-906. (Abstract) (Online version)


The selection of the most appropriate model for an ecological risk assessment depends on the application, the data and resources available, the knowledge base of the assessor, the relevant endpoints, and the extent to which the model deals with uncertainty. Since ecological systems are highly variable and our knowledge of model input parameters is uncertain, it is important that models include treatments of uncertainty and variability, and that results are reported in this light. In this paper we discuss treatments of variation and uncertainty in a variety of population models. In ecological risk assessments, the risk relates to the probability of an adverse event in the context of environmental variation. Uncertainty relates to ignorance about parameter values, e.g., measurement error and systematic error. An assessment of the full distribution of risks, under variability and parameter uncertainty, will give the most comprehensive and flexible endpoint. In this paper we present the rationale behind probabilistic risk assessment, identify the sources of uncertainty relevant for risk assessment and provide an overview of a range of population models. While all of the models reviewed have some utility in ecology, some have more comprehensive treatments of uncertainty than others. We identify the models that allow probabilistic assessments and sensitivity analyses, and we offer recommendations for further developments that aim towards more comprehensive and reliable ecological risk assessments for populations.