How pesticides change the environment

Aug 16, 2013
Using pesticides in Vaucluse, France. Credit: Rita Triebskorn/University of Tübingen

The number of humans on the planet has almost doubled in the past 50 years ‒ and so has global food production. As a result, the use of pesticides and their effect on humans, animals and plants have become more important. Many laboratory studies have shown that pesticides can harm organisms which they were not meant to affect. Intensive farming is also linked to collapsing populations of wild animals and the endangerment of species such as amphibians. Can the biochemical effects of pesticides upset entire ecosystems?

Professor Heinz Köhler and Professor Rita Triebskorn from the University of Tübingen's Institute of Evolution and Ecology (EvE) have published a study on the link between pesticides and changing ecological systems in the latest edition of Science. The two ecotoxicologists cite deficits in the research which have prevented recognition of the consequences of biochemical pesticide effects on a or on the composition of biological communities. "Although there are many indications of and ecosystems changing because of pesticides, there are few studies proving the connection without a doubt," Köhler and Triebskorn say. The researchers point to mathematical and experimental approaches which can be used to recognize links between the effects of pesticides in individuals and ecological changes in and ecosystems in regions where is practiced.

An important role is played by number of rare studies combining experimental fieldwork and research on sections of ecosystems, as well as a broad selection of chemical and biological analyses. An interdisciplinary approach can plausibly demonstrate connections between the effects of chemicals in humans and animals and the often indirect consequences on the population, community and ecosystem levels.

Köhler and Triebskorn also postulate interdependent effects between pesticides and global warming. The researchers forecast changes to "natural" selection, the spread of infections, and the sexual development and fertility of wild animals. This in turn could have a knock-on effect on populations, ecosystems and food chains. The researchers say it is a further challenge for science to show how strongly the effects of pesticides are influenced by climate change – and to find out which ecological processes are especially sensitive to this interdependence. "The links to the effect of pesticides at every level of increasing biological complexity require more thorough research," say Köhler and Triebskorn.

Explore further: Bangladesh development threatens fragile Sundarbans mangroves

More information: Köhler, Heinz-R.; Triebskorn, Rita: Wildlife Ecotoxicology of Pesticides – Can We Track Effects to the Population Level and Beyond? Science (2013), 16th August 2013: www.sciencemag.org/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

RNA-interference pesticides will need special safety testing

Jul 16, 2013

Standard toxicity testing is inadequate to assess the safety of a new technology with potential for creating pesticides and genetically modifying crops, according to a Forum article published in the August issue of BioScience. The au ...

Most new pesticides have roots in natural substances

Jun 27, 2012

Scientists who search for new pesticides for use in humanity's battle of the bugs and other threats to the food supply have been learning lessons from Mother Nature, according to a new analysis. It concludes ...

Thousands of pesticides dodge US regulation

Mar 27, 2013

Thousands of pesticides are allowed onto the US market without rigorous safety testing, putting people, animals and crop pollinators like bees at risk, a US environmental group said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Study finds tropical fish moving into temperate waters

8 hours ago

Tropical herbivorous fish are beginning to expand their range into temperate waters – likely as a result of climate change – and a new international study documents the dramatic impact of the intrusion ...

Warming leads to more run-ins with polar bears

11 hours ago

Word spread quickly: a polar bear, then two, were spotted near this remote Inuit village on the shores of Hudson Bay, about 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) north of Montreal.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.