The herbicide atrazine is a photosynthetic inhibitor used around the world in agricultural applications. Contamination of surface waters adjacent to treated areas can directly reduce growth of nontarget aquatic autotrophs, but the severity of impacts is highly dependent on species sensitivity and exposure concentration. Secondary effects resulting from macrophyte or phytoplankton decline may include an expansion of the more tolerant periphyton community. Recently, this shift in the autotrophic community has been proposed as a mechanism for increased rates of parasite infections in amphibians via augmented populations of aquatic snails which act as intermediate hosts to larval trematodes. To further clarify this relationship, an outdoor microcosm study was conducted to examine the effects of atrazine on primary production and snail populations over a range of environmentally relevant concentrations. In July 2009, 15 experimental ponds were treated to achieve initial concentrations of 0, 1, 10, 30, and 100 µg/L atrazine. Over a period of 73 d, measures were taken of macrophyte, phytoplankton, and periphyton biomass, growth, and fecundity of caged snails (Physella spp. and Stagnicola elodes) and free-living snails (Physella spp.). Except for declines in macrophyte biomass at the highest treatment level, no consistent relationships were found between atrazine concentration and any measured parameter. Comparison of these results with previous findings highlights the variability of responses to atrazine exposure between similarly constructed freshwater communities, even at concentrations up to 20 times higher than sustained environmental levels. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:1689–1696. © 2011 SETAC
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