Moving beyond standard toxicological metrics: The effect of diclofenac on planktonic host-parasite interactions

Nandini Vasantha Raman*, Alena S. Gsell, Themistoklis Voulgarellis, Nico W. van den Brink, Lisette N. de Senerpont Domis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Pharmaceuticals are increasingly released into surface waters and therefore ubiquitous in aquatic systems. While pharmaceuticals are known to influence species interactions, their effect on host-parasite interactions is still underexplored despite potential ecosystem-level consequences. Here, we ask whether diclofenac, a widely used non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug, affects the interaction between a phytoplankton host (Staurastrum sp.; green alga) and its obligate fungal parasite (Staurastromyces oculus; chytrid fungus). We hypothesized that the effect of increasing diclofenac concentration on the host-parasite system depends on parasite exposure. We assessed acute and chronic effects of a wide range of diclofenac concentrations (0–150 mg/L) on host and parasite performance using a replicated long gradient design in batch cultures. Overall system response summarizing parameters related to all biotic components in an experimental unit i.e., number of bacteria and phytoplankton host cells along with photosynthetic yield (a measure of algal cell fitness), depended on diclofenac concentration and presence/absence of parasite. While host standing biomass decreased at diclofenac concentrations >10 mg/L in non-parasite-exposed treatments, it increased at ≥10 mg/L in parasite-exposed treatments since losses due to infection declined. During acute phase (0–48 h), diclofenac concentrations <0.1 mg/L had no effect on host net-production neither in parasite-exposed nor non-parasite-exposed treatments, but parasite infection ceased at 10 mg/L. During chronic phase (0–216 h), host net-production declined only at concentrations >10 mg/L in non-parasite-exposed cultures, while it was overall close to zero in parasite-exposed cultures. Our results suggest that chytrid parasites are more sensitive to diclofenac than their host, allowing a window of opportunity for growth of phytoplankton hosts, despite exposure to a parasite. Our work provides a first understanding about effects of a pharmaceutical on a host-parasite interaction beyond those defined by standard toxicological metrics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106370
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Chytrid
  • Diclofenac
  • Direct effects
  • Host-parasite interaction
  • Indirect effects


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