Size- and sex-related sensitivity differences of aquatic crustaceans to imidacloprid

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Field collected aquatic invertebrates are often used as test organisms in the refinement of the standard Tier 1 risk assessment of various pollutants. This approach can provide insights into the effects of pollutants on the natural environment. However, researchers often pragmatically select test organisms of a specific sex and/or size, which may not represent the sensitivity of the whole population. To investigate such intraspecies sensitivity differences, we performed standard acute toxicity and toxicokinetic tests with different size classes and sex of Gammarus pulex and Asellus aquaticus. Furthermore, toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics models were used to understand the mechanism of the intraspecies sensitivity differences. We used neonates, juveniles and male and female adults in separate dedicated experiments, in which we exposed the animals to imidacloprid and its bioactive metabolite, imidacloprid-olefin. For both species, we found that neonates were the most sensitive group. For G. pulex, the sensitivity decreased linearly with size, which can be explained by the size-related uptake rate constant in the toxicokinetic process and size-related threshold value in the toxicodynamic process. For A. aquaticus, female adults were least sensitive to imidacloprid, which could be explained by a low internal biotransformation of imidacloprid to imidacloprid-olefin. Besides, imidacloprid-olefin was more toxic than imidacloprid to A. aquaticus, with differences being 8.4 times for females and 2.7 times for males. In conclusion, we established size-related sensitivity differences for G. pulex and sex-related sensitivity for A. aquaticus, and intraspecies differences can be explained by both toxicokinetic and toxicodynamic processes. Our findings suggest that to protect populations in the field, we should consider the size and sex of focal organisms and that a pragmatic selection of test organisms of equal size and/or sex can underestimate the sensitivities of populations in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113917
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022


  • Biotransformation
  • Sensitivity
  • Sex
  • Size
  • Toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics models


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