Heavy metals exert their toxic effects through different mechanisms. Lately, increasing attention has been focused on understanding the long-term ecological effects of chronically exposed populations and communities and their consequences to the ecosystem. The long-term exposure to heavy metals in the environment represents a threat to wild populations, affecting communities and putting ecosystem integrity at risk. Therefore, this type of exposure represents a threat to biodiversity. In the field, metal exposure is generally characterized by low doses and chronic exposures. This type of exposure exerts alterations across levels of biological organization. Distribution and abundance of populations, the community structure and the ecosystem dynamics may be altered. This chapter will focus on how chronically metal exposures in the field affect negatively populations and communities becoming a threat to biodiversity. Also, attention is put on the tools that enable to characterize and analyze the detrimental effects of heavy metal exposure on wild populations. Hence, the use and development of biomarkers in ecotoxicology will be discussed.
Part of the book: Heavy Metals