Assessing temporal and spatial variation in sensitivity of communities of periphyton sampled from agroecosystem to, and ability to recover from, atrazine exposure Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Lotic systems in agriculturally intensive watersheds can experience short-term pulsed exposures of pesticides as a result of runoff associated with rainfall events following field applications. Of special interest are herbicides that could potentially impair communities of primary producers, such as those associated with periphyton. Therefore, this study examined agroecosystem-derived lotic periphyton to assess (1) variation in community sensitivity to, and ability to recover from, acute (48h) exposure to the photosystem II (PSII)-inhibiting herbicide atrazine across sites and time, and (2) attempt to determine the variables (e.g., community structure, hydrology, water quality measures) that were predictive for observed differences in sensitivity and recovery. Periphyton were sampled from six streams in the Midwestern U.S. on four different dates in 2012 (April to August). Field-derived periphyton were exposed in the laboratory to concentrations of atrazine ranging from 10 to 320μg/L for 48h, followed by untreated media for evaluation of recovery for 48h. Effective quantum yield of PSII was measured after 24h and 48h exposure and 24h and 48h after replacement of media. Inhibition of PSII EC50 values ranged from 53 to >320µg/L. The majority of periphyton samples (16 out of 22) exposed to atrazine up to 320µg/L recovered completely by 48h after replacement of media. Percent inhibition of effective quantum yield of PSII in periphyton (6 of 22 samples) exposed to 320µg/L atrazine that were significantly lower than controls after 48h ranged from 2% to 24%. No distinct spatial or temporal trends in sensitivity and recovery potential were observed over the course of the study. Conditional inference forest analysis and variation partitioning were used to investigate potential associations between periphyton sensitivity to and ability to recover from exposure to atrazine. Although certain environmental variables (i.e., proximity of high flow/velocity events and dissolved solutes) were significantly associated with sensitivity to atrazine, recovery was not significantly associated with any variables, which is predicted by the rapid reversible binding at PSII. Consistent and rapid recovery of effective quantum yield of PSII across sites and sampling dates indicates that acute exposure to atrazine is unlikely to adversely affect function of these communities in their current state in intensive agroecosystems.


  • Prosser, Ryan
  • Brain, Richard A
  • Malia Andrus, J
  • Hosmer, Alan J
  • Solomon, Keith R
  • Hanson, Mark L

publication date

  • August 2015