Structural and functional effects of herbicides on non-target organisms in aquatic ecosystems with an emphasis on atrazine

Edited by: Andreas Kortekamp



Herbicide use has increased dramatically around the world over the past 6 decades (Gianessi and Reigner, 2007). Few herbicides were in use in the 1950s. However, by 2001 approximately 1.14 billion kilograms of herbicides were applied globally for the control of undesireable vegetation in agricultural, silvicultural, lawncare, aquacultural, and irrigation/recreational water management activities (Kiely et al., 2004). Twenty-eight percent of the total mass of herbicides is applied in the United States, with the remaining 72 percent being applied elsewhere around the globe (Kiely et al., 2004). Herbicides represent 36% of global pesticide use, followed by insecticides (25%), fungicides (10%) and other chemical classes (Kiely et al., 2004).

Agricultural production accounts for approximately 90% of herbicide use in the U.S. (Kiely et al., 2004). Gianessi and Reigner (2007) indicated that herbicides are routinely used on more than 90% of the area designated for large commercial crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, peanuts, and rice. Increased farm mechanization, technological advancements in production of inexpensive sources of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer (e.g., anhydrous ammonia), and conversion of forest, grassland, and wetland habitats to cropland has led to a tremendous increase in global food production over the past half-century. Herbicides have augmented advances in large-scale agricultural systems and have largely replaced mechanical and hand-weeding control mechanisms (Gianessi and Reigner, 2007). The wide-spread use of herbicides in agriculture has resulted in frequent chemical detections in surface and groundwaters (Gilliom, 2007). The majority of herbicides used are highly water soluble and are therefore prone to runoff from terrestrial environments. In additon, spray drift and atmospheric deposition can contribute to herbicide contamination of aquatic environments. Lastly, selected herbicides are deliberately applied to aquatic environments for controlling nuisance aquatic vegetation. Although aquatic herbicide exposure has been widely documented, these exposures are not necessarily related to adverse non-target ecological effects on natural communities in aquatic environments. This chapter evaluates the potential for effects of herbicides on the structure and function of aquatic envrionments at the population, community, and ecosystem levels of biological organization. In this manuscript I examine several critical aspects of the subject matter area: primary herbicides in use and chemical modes of action; the regulatory process used for registration and risk assessment of herbicides; data regarding non-target risks and the relative sensitivity of aquatic plants, inveretebrates, and fish to herbicides; and emerging areas of science regarding the potential for endocrine-disrupting effects of herbicides on aquatic vertebrates. Much of the focus of this paper is on atrazine due to the extensive database which exists regarding its fate and effects.

Study Area

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Structural and functional effects of herbicides on non-target organisms in aquatic ecosystems with an emphasis on atrazine
Chapter 18
DOI 10.5772/13451
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher InTech
Contributing office(s) Columbia Environmental Research Center
Description 22 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Herbicides and environment
First page 383
Last page 404
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details