Pesticides become more toxic as a combined package
Another factor is the mix of pesticides: “We looked at the insecticides not individually, but as a mixture, in order to investigate their interaction with one another”, explains lead author Dr. Simone Hasenbein. “In addition, we observed several species in the contaminated water body, including the less standard species for these tests, such as mini-snails and copepods.”
The tests took place over a period of ten days in the laboratory and also for six months in the field. Eventually, significantly negative effects resulting from the combined pesticide pollution in the water were found for twelve of the 15 small invertebrates and ten of the 16 zooplankton species. “Another point that was considered was how long the insecticide remained detectable in water”, was Dr. Hasenbein’s explanation of the method – “thus, one of the three substances was still detectable after six weeks.”
A clear result delivered by a combination of study series
– Firstly, the laboratory tests provided an indication of the concentrations at which the contaminants influence the growth and swimming behavior of the organisms.
– The field studies proved the long-term effects on an entire ecosystem, its food web and its community structures.
The negative effects on aquatic ecosystems could only be pinned down once all the results were combined. Since the microorganisms being studied can be influenced by the pesticides for much longer than these substances remain detectable, this also leads to the conclusion that bodies of water are far more polluted than all previous research had demonstrated.
Sublethal effects as alarm signals
The changes in the animals which are detectable from their swimming behavior, growth or weight, and which eventually lead to their death (sublethal), are an important indicator of this. To date, however, there is no valid scale showing the point from which, for example, a delay in growth has a fatal outcome for the animal. Therefore, study author Dr. Hasenbein is advocating this approach in particular: “Sublethal endpoints need to be integrated into the methods used in ambient water monitoring, to allow long-term negative effects on aquatic ecosystems to be detectedreliably, even when the pesticide concentrations in the water are low”, says the scientist. “A crustacean population which is exposed to low-level contaminant pollution could be more susceptible to invasive species, changes in water temperature or different salt concentrations, because the permanent, low-level pesticide contamination increases stress on the animals.” This is an important aspect, especially in the light of climate change, and should therefore be taken into consideration in future ecotoxicologic assessments.