Assessing sensitivity and recovery of field-collected periphyton acutely exposed to atrazine using PSII inhibition under laboratory conditions Academic Article uri icon

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  • Periphyton communities are an integral component of freshwater ecosystems and the desire to include data from toxicity testing with these organisms for ecological risk assessment is growing. This study developed sampling, storage, and exposure methods for the consistent and effective characterization of acute response and recovery of field-derived periphyton to photosystem II (PSII) inhibiting herbicides, particularly atrazine. Pulse amplitude modulated fluorometry was used to assess PSII quantum yield. For the method development phase, periphyton samples were collected from lotic and lentic systems in the Guelph, Ontario, Canada area during the summer of 2011. Following method development, native periphyton communities from three agricultural streams from the midwestern U.S. were sampled and exposed to atrazine (10-320 μg/L) and assessed for inhibition of PSII quantum yield (from 2 up to 24 h) and subsequent recovery upon cessation of exposure (up to 48 h post-exposure). Sensitivity to atrazine (EC10 and EC50 values) varied slightly (typically less than twofold difference) by site, date of sampling, and exposure interval. Only the highest initial test concentrations (160 or 320 μg/L) demonstrated greater than ~5% inhibition at 48 h post-exposure; however all other test concentrations recovered to within 5% of control levels, typically within 24 h. The rapid physiological recovery of periphyton communities upon atrazine removal supports the conclusion that acute exposure will not likely result in significant or sustained impacts on either structure or function of periphyton in lotic ecosystems. For ecological risk assessment, this suggests the current approach of relying on direct effects data for the most sensitive single species alone may result in overly conservative estimates of potential effects, especially for complex communities of primary producers.


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

publication date

  • November 2013