The study summarizes the objectives of the VALIMAR project and gives selected examples of biomarker responses that allow causal relationships to be established between exposure and biological effects at different levels of biological organization. In this project, active and passive biomonitoring experiments with brown trout (Salmo trutta f. fario) and stone loach (Barbatula barbatula) were performed in two small streams in southern Germany between 1995 and 1999 in parallel with investigations on contaminant mixtures in the laboratory in order to evaluate the suitability of biomarkers representing different levels of biological organization for the assessment of pollution in small streams. In addition to biomarker studies, the morphology of the test streams was characterized and limnological and chemical parameters were monitored. Early life stage tests and ecological studies of brown trout and stone loach population demography, of the fish assemblages, and the macro- and meiozoobenthos communities in the two test streams were included in the project. Several causality criteria were addressed by means of combined (1) laboratory and field studies, (2) chemical, biological, and statistical investigations, and (3) in vivo and in vitro studies that allowed establishment of cause-effect relationships at different biological levels. The comparison of results obtained at these levels allowed identification of mechanisms responsible for the respective effects (coherence of association, biological plausibility). Finally, individual responses (biomarkers, bioindicators) could be extrapolated to higher biological levels (population, community) thus addressing the criteria of 'time order' and 'coherence of association'.
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