Threshold levels for effects of insecticides in freshwater ecosystems: a review

R.P.A. van Wijngaarden, T.C.M. Brock, P.J. van den Brink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

162 Citations (Scopus)


A literature review of freshwater (model) ecosystem studies with neurotoxic insecticides was performed to assess ecological threshold levels, to compare these levels with the first tier approach within European Union (EU) administration procedures, and to evaluate the ecological consequences of exceeding these thresholds. Studies published between 1980 and 2001 were reviewed. Most studies covered organophosphates and synthetic pyrethroids in lentic waters. The most sensitive taxa were representatives of crustaceans, insects and fish. Based on toxic units, threshold values were equivalent for compounds with a similar mode of action. This also accounted for the nature and magnitude of direct effects at higher concentrations. Although laboratory single species toxicity tests may not allow predictions on precise ecological effects, some generalisations on effects and recovery can be made with respect to acute standard laboratory EC50 data. The NOECecosystem usually is a factor of 10 or more higher than first tier acceptable concentrations, particularly in the case of single applications and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. Acceptable concentrations, as set by the EU first tier approach, appear to be protective. Recovery of sensitive endpoints usually occurs within 2 months of the (last) application when peak concentrations remain lower than (0.1–1) × EC50 of the most sensitive standard test species. The consistency of response patterns found in model ecosystem studies can be useful when estimating the ecological risks of pesticides. The use of an effect classification system was also helpful in evaluating effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-380
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • insecticides
  • toxicity
  • water pollution
  • surface water
  • carbamates
  • risk assessment
  • organophosphorus insecticides
  • ecotoxicology
  • aquatic ecosystems
  • active ingredient chlorpyrifos
  • probabilistic risk assessment
  • outdoor experimental ditches
  • artificial stream system
  • pyrethroid insecticide
  • littoral enclosures
  • dursban(r) 4e
  • cotton pyrethroids
  • lambda-cyhalothrin
  • aquatic organisms


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