Assessing Risks from Pesticides in Europe’s Waterways

New research showcased in last week’s ‘Science for Environment Policy‘ digest, produced by the European Commission, suggests that the ‘Species at Risk’ (SPEAR) system could provide an accurate and cost-effective means of assessing the effects of pesticides in streams. Under the Water Framework Directive, all water bodies should achieve ‘good ecological status’ by 2015. SPEAR (pesticides) provides a means to measure the ecological status of a waterway, in respect to the impacts of pesticides on organisms.

SPEAR assesses the impact of stressors on at-risk invertebrates, with SPEAR (pesticides) specifically examining the effects of this one particular stressor. In an analysis carried out under the European Commission’s INTERACT project, researchers applied SPEAR (pesticides) at the level of the family and at the species level at 48 small sites on streams in Finland, Germany and France. The results were then compared. Only five species were found to have SPEAR values that were significantly different at the species and at the family level, including the caddisfly (Anabolia nervosa) and mayfly (Baetis vernus); species-level results indicated that the species were not at risk from pesticides, whilst family-level results indicated that the organisms were at risk.

Overall the results indicate that SPEAR (pesticides) could be used at the family level – which is less costly and time consuming than conducting analysis at the level of the species – and across borders. This methodology can contribute to researchers’ ongoing efforts to examine the ecological status of waterways.

Original research: Beketov, M.A., Foit, K., Schäfer, R.B. et al. (2009). SPEAR indicates pesticide effects in streams. Comparative use of species- and family-level biomonitoring data. Environmental Pollution. 157:1841-1848.