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Note: The course Ecotoxicology alternates with the course Ecosystem Services. The next Ecosystem Services course will be given in 2020-2021.

Admission requirements

This course is for MSc students in Biology.

Contact information

Coordinator: Prof. dr. M.G. Vijver


The course provides students with an introduction to the field of environmental toxicology: the study of the fate and effects of contaminants in ecosystems. Students will gain knowledge of the principles and current theoretical issues within the field. The course models the process of conducting collaborative scientific research in the field of ecotoxicology from hypothesis formulation, to design, sampling, analysis and dissemination of findings through a variety of scientific contexts.
This course will provide students with a framework in order to assess the risk of environmental contaminants. Basic principles of ecotoxicology will be discussed, including i) fate of chemicals and substances, ii) uptake, bioaccumulation and elimination of contaminants, iii) dose-response models, and iiii) responses to chemicals at different biological levels – organism to community organisms. iv) lab-field extrapolations, v) field realistic testing.
We will cover chemicals and nanoparticles/ microparticles to explain the abovementioned ecotox principles. As part of the course several hands-on cosm experiments are planned. During these labs students will apply the tools and procedures discussed in class to further understand toxicant fate and effects in ecosystems. It is generally anticipated that ecotoxicological tests should provide data useful for making realistic predictions of the fate and effects of chemicals in natural ecosystems. The ecotoxicological test should be able to identify the potential environmental impact of a chemical before it has caused any damage to the ecosystem. In spite of the considerable amount of work devoted to this problem and the plethora of test methods being published, there is still reason to question whether current procedures for testing and assessing the hazard of chemicals in the environment do answer the questions we have asked. Cosm studies represent a bridge between the laboratory and the natural world. The merit to perform cosm studies so the higher biological level is to investigate the impact of a stressor on a variety of species, all having interactions with each other. This enables to detect direct effects on structures of species assemblages as well as indirect effects caused by the chemicals. These indirect effects can be manifested as disruptions in species interactions e.g. competition, predator-prey interactions and the like. A second important reason for conducting a cosm study is that abiotic interactions at the level of the ecosystem can be accounted for, in such a way to measure effects of the chemical under more environmentally realistic exposure conditions. Conditions that likely influence the fate and behavior of a chemical are sorption to sediments and plants, photolysis, changes in pH and other natural fluctuations.
Environmental pollutants that will be discussed include classic chemical contaminants (e.g. pesticides, persistent organic pollutants and metals), as well as emerging contaminants (e.g. nanoparticles, endocrine disruptors and plastics). The foundation of the course is Environmental Risk Assessment, which is a key tool for scientists and policy makers to assess the potential risk of contaminants to the environment. What is the difference between risk assessment and risk management?

Learning goals

Course objectives:

  • Navigate and synthesize the scientific literature to gain a detailed knowledge of the sub-discipline area of ecotoxicology;

  • Apply knowledge of ecotoxicological theory to new environmental situations;

  • Interpret, summarize, validate and critique ecotoxicological data from the scientific literature;

  • Acquainting with collecting and analyzing field and/or laboratory data;

  • Interpret and analyze statistical data;

  • Get ideas on how informed management decisions are made based on data;

  • Work as part of a team to design, plan, carry out, analyze and report the findings of an experiment in ecotoxicology;

Final qualifications:

  • Students can define and discuss the concept of Environmental Risk Assessment

  • Students are able to describe and discuss important principles in ecotoxicology, such as including i) fate of chemicals and substances, ii) uptake, bioaccumulation and elimination of contaminants, iii) dose-response models, and iiii) biomarker responses that can be observed in organisms, iv) lab-field extrapolations, v) cosms research questions, design, interpretation.

  • Students can discuss strengths and shortcomings of different lab-based, field-based, model-based approaches to assess environmental impacts.

  • Students can conduct an environmental risk assessment;

  • Students can communicate findings by writing a report in a scientific format, which includes an abstract, introduction, methods section, results section and discussion section.

  • Students perform a lab-based experiment (single species or cosms experiment) collecting data


4 weeks starting from January 2020 onwards. The details of the timetable will be posted on blackboard


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students should be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes. No textbook is required. Readings will be made available prior to the class

Mode of instruction

The main mode of instruction will center around lectures and labs. In addition, students are required to complete individual and group assignments. To facilitate completion of these assignments, there will be some time set aside during lectures to discuss and work on assignments (the remainder of the work is conducted outside class hours). MAKE SURE TO BRING A NOTEBOOK AND A PEN TO CLASS!

Assessment method

  • Lab cosm assignment (incl presentation, writing, execution, participation): 50%, minimum grade 6,0

  • Exam: 50%, minimum grade 5,6


Via USIS and enroll in Blackboard

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for more information on how to apply.


It will be compulsory to attend some parts of the course. This includes the course introduction, interactive sessions, lab-sessions and guest lectures. These compulsory parts are indicated in the weekly schedule. Failure to attend these course components, may result in an additional individual assignment.