This paper reviews the application of ecological vulnerability analysis in risk assessment and describes new developments in methodology. For generic non-site-specific assessments (e.g. for the requirements of most European directives on dangerous chemicals) risk is characterised just on the basis of the ratio between an effect indicator and an exposure indicator. However, when the actual risk for a specific ecosystem is desired, the concept of ecological vulnerability may be more appropriate. This calls for a change in thinking, from sensitivity at the organism level to vulnerability at higher organization levels, and thus forms the link from laboratory toxicology to field effects at population, community or ecosystem level. To do so, biological and ecological characteristics of the ecosystems under concern are needed to estimate the ecological vulnerability. In this review we describe different vulnerability analysis methods developed for populations (of a single species), communities (consisting of different populations of species) and ecosystems (community and habitat combined). We also give some examples of methods developed for socio-ecological systems. Aspects that all methods share are the use of expert judgment, the input of stakeholders, ranking and mapping of the results, and the qualitative nature of the results. A new general framework is presented to guide future ecological vulnerability analysis. This framework can be used as part of ecological risk assessment, but also in risk management. We conclude that the further quantification of ecological vulnerability is a valuable contribution to vulnerability assessment.
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