The ecological risk assessment of pesticides is generally based on toxicity data obtained from single-species laboratory experiments and does not take into account ecological interactions such as competition or predation. Intraspecific and interspecific competition are expected to result in additional stress and might increase the sensitivity of aquatic populations to pesticide contamination. To test this hypothesis, the effects of the fungicide carbendazim were assessed on the population dynamics of the micro-crustacean Daphnia magna under different levels of intraspecific and interspecific competition for an algal food resource, using the rotifer Brachionus calyciflorus as competing species. The experiments were performed in glass jars with three different carbendazim concentrations (i.e., 50, 100 and 150 µg/L), and had a duration of 25 days, with a 4-day pre-treatment period in which competition was allowed to take place and a 21-day exposure period. The endpoints evaluated were D. magna total population abundance and population structure. Results of these experiments show that competition stress on its own had a significant influence on shaping D. magna population’s structure, however, a different response was observed in the intraspecific and interspecific competition experiments. The use of a 4-day pre-treatment period in the intraspecific experiment already led to an absence of interactive effects due to the quick abundance confluence between the different intraspecific treatments, thus not allowing the observation of interactive effects between competition and carbendazim stress. Results of the interspecific competition experiment showed that rotifers were quickly outcompeted by D. magna and that D. magna even profited from the rotifer presence through exploitative competition, which alleviated the original stress caused by the algal resource limitation. These experiments suggest that competition interactions play an important role in defining population-level effects of pesticides in a more complex way than was hypothesized (“increasing competition leading to a sensitivity increase”), as the interspecific experiment showed. Therefore, these should be taken into account in the extrapolation of single-species toxicity data to protect higher levels of biological organization.
- Ecological interactions
- Ecological risk assessment