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Building with Nature Guideline > Toolbox > Impact Assessment > Probabilistic effect analysis - The Species Sensitivity Distribution

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Probabilistic effect analysis-The Species Sensitivity Distribution

Type: Method

Project Phase: Planning and Design, Construction, Operation and Maintenance

Purpose: To assess the environmental impact of different interventions through species indicators

Requirements: Eco(toxico)logical knowledge of species and ecosystem at hand

Relevant Software: Statistical programmes (eg. R) 


To assess the environmental impacts of human interventions, species indicators can be useful to evaluate the effects of different designs. The so-called Species Sensitivity Distribution (SSD) uses causal relationships between exposure level and effect level of individual species. By using exposure-effect data of multiple types of animals and plants, the sensitivity distribution of these species can be used to assess the risk of human interference more quantitatively. Although the SSD was originally developed to assess the ecological risk of toxicants, it also appeared to be applicable for non-toxic stressors. For instance, SSDs have been developed specifically for assessing the risk of suspended clay-particles and sedimentation for the environmental impact analysis of offshore oil and gas drilling activities. One advantage of having SSDs for non-toxic stressors is that they can be easily combined with those of toxic stressors, resulting in a single impact indicator - although such combinations remain to be fully validated.

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How to Use

SSDs can be used by eco(toxico)logists with sufficient knowledge of the ecosystem and its species. The application of SSDs is one form of probabilistic effect analysis (PEA). Please refer to the tool Probabilistic analysis of ecological effects - Cause-effect chain modeling, for a description of another form of PEA.

  1. Applicability of SSDs for environmental impact assessments
  2. Use of the environmental impact factor
  3. Spatial and temporal issues
  4. Conclusion and recommendation

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Practical Applications

The SSD approach has been implemented by the offshore oil and gas industry to evaluate the environmental impact of drilling discharge scenarios. Such discharge plumes are to some extent comparable with dredging plumes. Therefore, the approach may also be applicable to evaluate the effects of dredging. The implementation of SSDs in the EIF by the oil and gas industry is illustrated in this section.

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