Effects of an herbicide on a planktonic food web

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


In situ microcosms of a planktonic community were exposed to the triazine herbicide simazine. Randomly selected sets of microcosms were collected and sampled each week for three weeks (plus Week 0). Samples of ambient water were collected each week for evaluation of enclosure effects. Physical and chemical parameters were measured per microcosm. Simazine was measured at Weeks 0 and 3 only. The following organisms were preserved and quantified: phytoplankton, bacteria, and zooplankton, including ciliates, copepod nauplii, cladocerans and rotifers.

Simazine decreased dissolved oxygen and pH, but increased nitrate and ammonia concentrations compared to control microcosms. A temporary decrease in temperature occurred at Week 1.

Phytoplankton were differentially affected by simazine. Sensitive taxa included Trachelomonas, Glenodinium, diatoms and several species of relatively minor significance. Dinobryon and miscellaneous coccoids were not significantly affected. Phytoplankton ≥9 um were more affected by simazine than phytoplankton <9 um. Many cells <9 um may be facultative or obligate heterotrophs and not susceptible to simazine. Although data were variable, bacteria were also not affected by phytoplankton changes or simazine.

Rotifers were the major zooplankters and the two dominant species, Kellicottia bostoniensis and Keratella cochlearis, were reported to graze exclusively on cells <9 um. Polyarthra vulgaris and Synchaeta pectinata also graze in this size range but are not limited to it. Copepod nauplii/copepodids were present, but adult copepods and cladocerans were rare. The tintinnid ciliate Codonella exhibited a temporary population increase during the study.

Zooplankton were not affected by simazine-induced changes in the phytoplankton. Kellicottia bostoniensis was the only zooplankter affected by simazine: it had lesser mortality in higher concentrations of simazine. Possible reasons for this enhanced survival were discussed. The zooplankton (primarily rotifers) appeared to feed more on heterotrophic cells than on autotrophic cells, largely as a function of food size, and may have been more closely associated with the detrital food chain than the autotrophic food chain.