The concept of dose-response is central to the scientific study of poisons or toxicology. It is also well known in toxicology that the dose of a substance is what separates a poison from a remedy. All biological organisms including humans can potentially be exposed to a range of chemical, physical, radiological, and biological doses in the environment that can trigger a variety of responses. The process of quantitatively assessing the dose received and response by a biological entity produces a dose-response relationship which is usually represented graphically as a dose-response curve. Such a curve has traditionally been one of the steps involved in conducting human health risk assessment of exposure to various chemical, physical, and radiological contaminants in the environment, including drugs and medicine.
Risk assessment provides the scientific or rational basis for managing and regulating toxic substances in the environment. While traditional human health risk assessment focuses mostly on the effects of chemicals and xenobiotics on humans with respect to definite endpoint or health outcome such as cancer, endpoints are not so clear-cut in risk assessment dealing with ecosystem health or ecological risk assessment. In fact, multiple endpoints are more frequently encountered and must be defined for particular ecosystems under consideration. Furthermore, 'stressor dose' rather than chemical dose is the main emphasis in ecological risk assessment and will be used throughout this article.
This article is meant to provide a basic background on stressor dose-response within the context of traditional dose-response in ecological risk assessment, drawing occasionally from human risk assessment as background. The article begins with a discussion of stressor dose-response and ecological risk assessment, followed by a detailed review of stressor dose, biological responses, and stressor dose-response relationship. The article concludes with some knowledge gap in the use of stressor-dose relationships.
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