• Daphnia pulex;
  • Optical tracking;
  • Neonicotinoid;
  • Acetylcholinesterase inhibitor;
  • Sublethal


Many emerging contaminants tend to be biologically active at very low concentrations, occur in water as part of complex mixtures, and impact biota in ways that are not detected using traditional toxicity tests (e.g., median lethal concentration). To evaluate emerging contaminants, the authors developed a method for detecting sublethal behavioral effects by quantifying the swimming behavior of Daphnia pulex, a model organism for studying aquatic toxicity. This optical tracking technique is capable of measuring many swimming parameters, 2 of which—cumulative distance and angular change—are presented. To validate this technique, 2 prototypical compounds that exhibit different modes of action as well as corresponding insecticides that are commonly found in surface waters were investigated. The acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor physostigmine was used as the prototypical compound for the large number of AChE inhibitor insecticides (e.g., chlorpyrifos). Nicotine was used as the prototypical compound for neonicotinoid insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid). Results demonstrate that this assay is capable of detecting sublethal behavioral effects that are concentration-dependent and that insecticides with the same mode of action yield similar results. The method can easily be scaled up to serve as a high-throughput screening tool to detect sublethal toxic effects of a variety of chemicals. This method is likely to aid in enhancing the current understanding of emerging contaminants and to serve as a novel water-quality screening tool. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:144–151. © 2013 SETAC