Effects of temperature, genetic variation and species competition on the sensitivity of algae populations to the antibiotic enrofloxacin

Andreu Rico*, Wenkai Zhao, Frits Gillissen, Miquel Lürling, Paul J. van den Brink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Primary producers are amongst the most sensitive organisms to antibiotic pollution in aquatic ecosystems. To date, there is little information on how different environmental conditions may affect their sensitivity to antibiotics. In this study we assessed how temperature, genetic variation and species competition may affect the sensitivity of the cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa and the green-algae Scenedesmus obliquus to the antibiotic enrofloxacin. First, we performed single-species tests to assess the toxicity of enrofloxacin under different temperature conditions (20 °C and 30 °C) and to assess the sensitivity of different species strains using a standard temperature (20 °C). Next, we investigated how enrofloxacin contamination may affect the competition between M. aeruginosa and S. obliquus. A competition experiment was performed following a full factorial design with different competition treatments, defined as density ratios (i.e. initial bio-volume of 25/75%, 10/90% and 1/99% of S. obliquus/M. aeruginosa, respectively), one 100% S. obliquus treatment and one 100% M. aeruginosa treatment, and four different enrofloxacin concentrations (i.e. control, 0.01, 0.05 and 0.10 mg/L). Growth inhibition based on cell number, bio-volume, chlorophyll-a concentration as well as photosynthetic activity were used as evaluation endpoints in the single-species tests, while growth inhibition based on measured chlorophyll-a was primarily used in the competition experiment. M. aeruginosa photosynthetic activity was found to be the most sensitive endpoint to enrofloxacin (EC50–72 h =0.02 mg/L), followed by growth inhibition based on cell number. S. obliquus was found to be slightly more sensitive at 20 °C than at 30 °C (EC50–72 h cell number growth inhibition of 38 and 41 mg/L, respectively), whereas an opposite trend was observed for M. aeruginosa (0.047 and 0.037 mg/L, respectively). Differences in EC50–72 h values between algal strains of the same species were within a factor of two. The competition experiment showed that M. aeruginosa growth can be significantly reduced in the presence of S. obliquus at a density ratio of 75/25% M. aeruginosa/S. obliquus, showing a higher susceptibility to enrofloxacin than in the single-species test. The results of this study confirm the high sensitivity of cyanobacteria to antibiotics and show that temperature and inter-strain genetic variation may have a limited influence on their response to them. The results of the competition experiment suggest that the structure of primary producer communities can be affected, at least temporarily, at antibiotic concentrations close to those that have been measured in the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-236
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Antibiotics
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Green algae
  • Species competition
  • Temperature-dependent sensitivity

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