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Can nutrients mask community responses to insecticide mixtures?

Alexander, Alexa C., Luis, Ana T., Culp, Joseph M., Baird, Donald J., Cessna, Allan J.
Ecotoxicology 2013 v.22 no.7 pp. 1085-1100
Gomphus, Odonata, Plecoptera, aquatic insects, chlorpyrifos, community structure, dimethoate, experimental design, groundwater, nutrient content, nutrients, predators, streams, toxicity
The ecological effect of simultaneous exposure to two nutrient gradients, three insecticides and different predator intensities was investigated over a 3-week period in 80 outdoor, artificial streams using field-collected benthic invertebrates. The experimental design consisted of a 2 × 5 factorial structure with two nutrient levels (oligotrophic or mesotrophic) and five concentrations of the ternary insecticide mixture consisting of the insecticides (chlorpyrifos, dimethoate and imidacloprid). Equivalent toxic unit doses were summed to create a ternary insecticide dose (e.g., 0.1 + 0.1 + 0.1 = 0.3 TU) resulting in a range of ternary insecticide mixture toxicity (i.e., control groundwater, 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 and 1.2 TU). Two genera of insect predators, Gomphus spp. (Odonata) and Agnetina spp. (Plecoptera) were also added into each replicate stream, at densities and sizes comparable to those found at our collection site, to evaluate how the contribution of predators may change in nutrient limited (oligotrophic) versus amended (mesotrophic) systems. We describe a causal mechanism whereby the combined action of nutrients and insecticides reshaped aquatic community structure by interacting through multiple pathways. Specifically, mesotrophic conditions reduced the toxic effects of ternary insecticide mixtures for aquatic insects which, in some cases, appeared to increase abundance of aquatic insects. However, higher levels of insecticides in mesotrophic streams negated this effect and were even more toxic; for example, to aquatic insect grazers than the same insecticide doses in oligotrophic treatment levels. Effects of predators were only significant in oligotrophic streams. Evidence is provided as to how nutrient and contaminant interactions can greatly complicate the assessment of community level responses to insecticide mixtures due to direct and indirect effects of the resulting changes in the density of different genera and functional feeding groups within a community.