Pesticides alter ecosystem respiration via phytoplankton abundance and community structure: Effects on the carbon cycle?

Samantha L. Rumschlag, Dale A. Casamatta, Michael B. Mahon, Jason T. Hoverman, Thomas R. Raffel, Hunter J. Carrick, Peter J. Hudson, Jason R. Rohr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Freshwater systems are critical to life on earth, yet they are threatened by the increasing rate of synthetic chemical pollution. Current predictions of the effects of synthetic chemicals on freshwater ecosystems are hampered by the sheer number of chemical contaminants entering aquatic systems, the diversity of organisms inhabiting these systems, the myriad possible direct and indirect effects resulting from these combinations, and uncertainties concerning how contaminants might alter ecosystem metabolism via changes in biodiversity. To address these knowledge gaps, we conducted a mesocosm experiment that elucidated the responses of ponds composed of phytoplankton and zooplankton to standardized concentrations of 12 pesticides, nested within four pesticide classes, and two pesticide types. We show that the effects of the pesticides on algae were consistent within herbicides and insecticides and that responses of over 70 phytoplankton species and genera were consistent within broad taxonomic groups. Insecticides generated top-down effects on phytoplankton community composition and abundance, which were associated with persistent increases in ecosystem respiration. Insecticides had direct toxic effects on cladocerans, which led to competitive release of copepods. These changes in the zooplankton community led to a decrease in green algae and a modest increase in diatoms. Herbicides did not change phytoplankton composition but reduced total phytoplankton abundance. This reduction in phytoplankton led to short-term decreases in ecosystem respiration. Given that ponds release atmospheric carbon and that worldwide pesticide pollution continues to increase exponentially, scientists and policy makers should pay more attention to the ways pesticides alter the carbon cycle in ponds via changes in communities, as demonstrated by our results. Our results show that these predictions can be simplified by grouping pesticides into types and species into functional groups. Adopting this approach provides an opportunity to improve the efficiency of risk assessment and mitigation responses to global change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1091-1102
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2022


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