• Combined effects;
  • Environmental risk assessment;
  • Leaf litter breakdown;
  • Microbial community;
  • Shredder


Leaf litter breakdown is a fundamental process in aquatic ecosystems that is realized by microbial decomposers and invertebrate detritivores. Although this process may be adversely affected by fungicides, among other factors, no test design exists to assess combined effects on such decomposer–detritivore systems. Hence, the present study assessed effects of the model fungicide tebuconazole (65 µg/L) on the conditioning of leaf material (by characterizing the associated microbial community) as well as the combined effects (i.e., direct toxicity and food quality-related effects (=indirect)) on the energy processing of the leaf-shredding amphipod Gammarus fossarum using a five-week semistatic test design. Gammarids exposed to tebuconazole produced significantly less feces (∼20%), which in turn significantly increased their assimilation (∼30%). Moreover, a significantly reduced lipid content (∼20%) indicated lower physiological fitness. The conditioning process was altered as well, which was indicated by a significantly reduced fungal biomass (∼40%) and sporulation (∼30%) associated with the leaf material. These results suggest that tebuconazole affects both components of the investigated decomposer-detritivore system. However, adverse effects on the level of detritivores cannot be explicitly attributed to direct or indirect pathways. Nevertheless, as the endpoints assessed are directly related to leaf litter breakdown and associated energy transfer processes, the protectiveness of environmental risk assessment for this ecosystem function may be more realistically assessed in future studies by using this or comparable test designs. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:2718–2724. © 2011 SETAC