Predictive value of species sensitivity distributions for effects of herbicides in freshwater ecosystems

P.J. van den Brink, N. Blake, T.C.M. Brock, L. Maltby

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In this article we present a review of the laboratory and field toxicity of herbicides to aquatic ecosystems. Single-species acute toxicity data and ( micro) mesocosm data were collated for nine herbicides. These data were used to investigate the importance of test species selection in constructing species sensitivity distributions (SSDs), and in estimating hazardous concentrations (i.e., HC5) protective for freshwater aquatic ecosystems. A lognormal model was fitted to toxicity data ( acute EC50s and chronic NOECs) and the resulting distribution used to estimate lower (95% confidence), median (50% confidence), and upper (5% confidence), HC5 values. The taxonomic composition of the species assemblage used to construct the SSD does have a significant influence on the assessment of hazard and only sensitive primary producers should be included for the risk assessment of herbicides. No systematic difference in sensitivity between standard and non-standard test species was observed. Hazardous concentrations estimated using laboratory-derived acute and chronic toxicity data for sensitive freshwater primary producers were compared to the response of herbicide-stressed freshwater ecosystems using a similar exposure regime. The lower limit of the acute HC5 and the median value of the chronic HC5 were protective of adverse effects in aquatic micro/mesocosms even under a long-term exposure regime. The median HC5 estimate based on acute data was protective of adverse ecological effects in freshwater ecosystems when a pulsed or short-term exposure regime was used in the microcosm and mesocosm experiments. There was also concordance between the predictions from the effect model PERPEST and the concentrations at which clear effects started to emerge in laboratory and field studies. However, compared to the SSD concept, the PERPEST model is able to provide more information on ecological risks when a common toxicological mode of action is evaluated as it considers both recovery and indirect effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-674
JournalHuman and Ecological Risk Assessment
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • macrophyte-dominated mesocosms
  • ecological risk-assessment
  • active ingredient linuron
  • stream algal communities
  • 2 triazine herbicides
  • plankton communities
  • experimental ponds
  • 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid
  • terrestrial herbicides
  • periphyton communitie

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