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Open-File Report 2012–1213

Toxicity, Sublethal Effects, and Potential Modes of Action of Select Fungicides on Freshwater Fish and Invertebrates

By Adria A. Elskus

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (941 KB)Abstract

Despite decades of agricultural and urban use of fungicides and widespread detection of these pesticides in surface waters, relatively few data are available on the effects of fungicides on fish and invertebrates in the aquatic environment. Nine fungicides are reviewed in this report: azoxystrobin, boscalid, chlorothalonil, fludioxonil, myclobutanil, fenarimol, pyraclostrobin, pyrimethanil, and zoxamide. These fungicides were identified as emerging chemicals of concern because of their high or increasing global use rates, detection frequency in surface waters, or likely persistence in the environment. A review of the literature revealed significant sublethal effects of fungicides on fish, aquatic invertebrates, and ecosystems, including zooplankton and fish reproduction, fish immune function, zooplankton community composition, metabolic enzymes, and ecosystem processes, such as leaf decomposition in streams, among other biological effects. Some of these effects can occur at fungicide concentrations well below single-species acute lethality values (48- or 96-hour concentration that effects a response in 50 percent of the organisms, that is, effective concentration killing 50 percent of the organisms in 48 or 96 hours) and chronic sublethal values (for example, 21-day no observed adverse effects concentration), indicating that single-species toxicity values may dramatically underestimate the toxic potency of some fungicides. Fungicide modes of toxic action in fungi can sometimes reflect the biochemical and (or) physiological effects of fungicides observed in vertebrates and invertebrates; however, far more studies are needed to explore the potential to predict effects in nontarget organisms based on specific fungicide modes of toxic action. Fungicides can also have additive and (or) synergistic effects when used with other fungicides and insecticides, highlighting the need to study pesticide mixtures that occur in surface waters. For fungicides that partition to organic matter in sediment and soils, it is particularly important to determine their effects on freshwater mussels and other freshwater benthic invertebrates in contact with sediments, as available toxicity studies with pelagic species, mainly Daphnia magna, may not be representative of these benthic organisms. Finally, there is a critical need for studies of the chronic effects of fungicides on reproduction, immunocompetence, and ecosystem function; sublethal endpoints with population and community-level relevance.

First posted September 27, 2012

Revised November 25, 2014

For additional information contact:
U.S. Geological Survey
Leetown Science Center
11649 Leetown Road
Keaneysville, West Virginia 25430

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Suggested citation:

Elskus, A.A., 2014, Toxicity, sublethal effects, and potential modes of action of select fungicides on freshwater fish and invertebrates (ver. 1.1, November 2014): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1213, 42 p.,

ISSN 2331–1258 (online)





Overview of Fungicides

Detailed Summaries for Select Fungicides by Fungicide Resistance Action Committee Mode of Action

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendix 1. Qualitative Toxicity Categories

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