James N. McNair and Adriana Belém de Araújo, Annis Water Resources Institute, Grand Valley State University
Antibiotics are an important class of trace environmental contaminants. Many of these compounds are produced by common molds and bacteria and therefore occur naturally in the environment. However, enormous quantities of antibiotics are now produced and used by humans. Applications include drugs in human and veterinary medicine, growth promoters in intensive livestock production, agricultural pesticides, and additives in many consumer and personal care products.
Antibiotics enter the environment from multiple sources, including excretion by humans, pets, and farm animals, spraying of agricultural crops, chemotherapy and antibiotic food additives in net pen aquaculture, and inappropriate use and disposal by humans (Halling-Sørensen et al., 2002; Boxall et al. 2003; Thiele-Bruhn, 2003). Once in the environment, they enter natural water bodies via hydrologic transport in agricultural areas, passage through municipal wastewater treatment plants, and a variety of other pathways. Cursory surveys of streams in the U.S. and U.K. have found human and veterinary antibiotics at individual concentrations of up to roughly 1.0 μg/L (Watts et al., 1982; Lindsey et al., 2001; Kolpin et al., 2002), though higher concentrations probably occur (e.g., in streams draining agricultural fields after spreading of manure).
Quantitative information regarding ecological effects of antibiotics on aquatic organisms is scarce. Among prokaryotes, Backhaus & Grimme (1999) demonstrated inhibition of the marine luminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri by tetracycline and ofloxacin at concentrations on the order of 1 μg/L, and Holten Lützhøft et al. (1999) and Halling-Sørensen (2000) demonstrated inhibition of the freshwater cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa by amoxicillin, benzylpenicillin, spiramycin, streptomycin, and tiamulin at concentrations on the order of 1 μg/L. Among eukaryotes, the lowest reported inhibitory concentrations are on the order of 1 μg/L for the unicellular green alga Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata (formerly Selenastrum capricornutum) exposed to clarithromycin (Isidori et al., 2005), and 100 μg/L for the freshwater cladoceran Ceriodaphnia dubia exposed to oxytetracycline and the freshwater rotifer Brachionus calyciflorus exposed to ofloxacin (Isidori et al., 2005). Inhibitory concentrations of 1000 μg/L (1 mg/L) or higher have been reported for the freshwater cladoceran Daphnia magna exposed to bacitracin (Dojmi di Delupis et al., 1992), the brine shrimp Artemia salina exposed to sulfadimethoxine (Brambilla et al., 1994), and the guppy Lebistes reticulatus exposed to furazolidone (Canton & Van Esch, 1976). Thus, inhibitory concentrations reported for unicellular organisms (especially prokaryotes) lie within the range of antibiotic concentrations observed in natural water bodies, while inhibitory concentrations reported to date for aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates are much higher.
Several problems limit the usefulness of available ecotoxicity information for assessing ecological risks of antibiotics. Very few species have been assessed for any individual antibiotic, most studies only report concentrations at which extremely large effects occur (usually a 50 % reduction in survival or population growth), most studies of aquatic invertebrates and fish employ exposure durations that are very short compared to the typical lifespan of adequately maintained test organisms (longer test durations typically yield effects at lower concentrations), and most studies of aquatic invertebrates and fish assess only effects on survival rather than including sublethal effects on reproduction, growth, or behavior (which typically occur at lower concentrations than do survival effects). As a result of these problems, the number of species for which data are available is insufficient to permit a credible estimate of the distribution of species sensitivities for any antibiotic, and data for most species and antibiotics that have been assessed do not provide a plausible estimate of the lowest concentration at which ecologically meaningful effects first arise.
Rotifers are excellent test organisms for addressing some of the problems with available antibiotic ecotoxicity data for aquatic invertebrates. These organisms play a central role in the dynamics of freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems, are easy to culture in the laboratory, have much shorter lifespans than more-widely used microcrustacean test species such as Daphnia magna and Ceriodaphnia dubia, are much smaller than these same microcrustacean species and therefore can be cultured in much smaller volumes of medium, and can readily be obtained as resting eggs from commercial suppliers (Preston & Snell, 2001; Preston et al., 2000; Snell & Carmona, 1995; Janssen et al., 1994; Wallace & Snell, 1991). Their short lifespan (roughly 2 weeks at 25°C) makes full-lifespan test durations much more feasible than with cladocerans or larger invertebrates, and the commercial availability of resting eggs and small volume of culture medium required per test subject (100 μL) permit relatively high degrees of replication. These properties are expected to increase the sensitivity of tests.
The objective of the present study was to assess the chronic toxicity of three common antibiotics to two widely occurring freshwater and brackish-water rotifers. Specifically, we conducted full-lifespan survival and reproduction tests to determine the inhibitory effects of streptomycin sulfate (an aminoglycoside), tetracycline hydrochloride (a tetracycline), and tylosin tartrate (a macrolide) on the freshwater rotifer Brachionus calyciflorus and brackish-water rotifer B. plicatilis. Our results provide the first information regarding toxic effects of these antibiotics on rotifers.
Effects of each antibiotic (streptomycin sulfate, tetracycline hydrochloride, and tylosin tartrate) on asexual reproduction, lifespan, and several demographic parameters (Malthusian parameter, net reproduction rate, and three key properties of the net maternity function) were assessed at five nominal concentrations (ranging from 5.6 to 2000 mg/L) and a control (without antibiotics). Test animals were obtained by hatching resting eggs and were individually cultured in wells with 100 μL test medium and food at a fixed concentration ( Chlorella vulgaris at 3×106 cells/mL for B. calyciflorus, and Nannochloropsis oculata at 7×106 cells/mL for B. plicatilis). The number of offspring from each test animal was counted daily, and lifespan was recorded at death. Lowest Observed Effect Concentrations (LOECs) were determined for reproduction and lifespan; 1, 10, 25, and 50 % Inhibitory Concentrations (ICs) and 95 % confidence intervals were estimated for all endpoints.
Effects of antibiotics on several individual- and population-level properties were assessed, including lifespan, lifetime reproduction, and Malthusian parameter (dominant eigenvalue of the Bernardelli-Leslie matrix, or the theoretical asymptotic geometric growth rate of an isolated population with time-invariant survival and fecundity schedules). Lowest Observed Effect Concentrations (LOECs) were determined for individual-level endpoints (lifetime reproduction and lifespan); 1, 10, 25, and 50 % Inhibitory Concentrations (IC1, IC10, IC25, and IC50) and 95 % confidence intervals were estimated for all endpoints.
For each rotifer species, the lifespan LOEC for each antibiotic was determined by finding the lowest test concentration that produced a statistically significant ( p d 0.05) reduction in lifespan, and similarly for the lifetime reproduction LOEC. Data properties (variance heterogeneity and non- normality) prevented use of standard parametric statistical methods. All comparisons of treatments and controls were instead conducted using two-sample bootstrapping. In each case, the null hypothesis was that the control and treatment means were the same; the alternative hypothesis was that the treatment mean was less than the control mean. The resulting p values for each antibiotic (one p value for each comparison of treatment and control) were adjusted to control the experiment-wise error rate using Holms method (Holm, 1979), which is more powerful than the Bonferroni method but valid under equally general conditions.
IC x values were estimated by a combination of nonlinear regression and bootstrapping. A suitable concentration-response function (CRF) was chosen for each test endpoint by fitting all regression models from a master list to data consisting of the test concentrations and the corresponding endpoint means, repeating the procedure several times, and then examining the sum of squared errors and the consistency of the parameter estimates across repetitions (see example in Figure 1). IC x ( x = 1, 10, 25, 50) values for each endpoint were determined by case-based bootstrapping stratified by concentration, with the CRF being re- fit to each bootstrap sample and the implied IC x values calculated. The mean, median, and 95 % confidence interval for each ICx were determined from these bootstrap distributions. For additional details, see Araujo & McNair (2007).
Figure 1. Example of a fitted CRF (in this case, a log Gaussian function fitted to mean lifetime reproduction data for B. calyciflorus exposed to tetracycline). The lower horizontal dashed line represents 25 % inhibition of mean lifetime reproduction. The concentration at which this line intersects the CRF is the corresponding IC25.
Figure 2 shows the response of B. calyciflorus age-specific survival and fecundity to streptomycin exposure. Broadly similar patterns were observed for B. calyciflorus and the other antibiotics. The main results are summarized in Tables 1 and 2. All B. plicatilis LOECs were 90 mg/L (reproduction and lifespan for all three antibiotics). For B. calyciflorus, tylosin LOECs were 90 mg/L for reproduction and lifespan, tetracycline LOECs were 5.6 mg/L for reproduction and 90 mg/L for lifespan, and streptomycin LOECs were 5.6 mg/L for both reproduction and lifespan. All LOECs and ICs were well above 10 μg/L, which is considered the maximum antibiotic concentration likely to occur in natural water bodies. Additional details and discussion can be found in Araujo and McNair (2007).
Figure 2. Age-specific survival and fecundity schedules for B. calyciflorus exposed to streptomycin. Fecundity at age x (upper panel) is the average number of live offspring produced by mothers of age x in a given treatment or control. Survival to age x (lower panel) is the proportion of the initial eight test subjects in a given treatment or control that were still alive at age x days. Streptomycin concentrations are in mg/L.
Table 1. Summary of LOECs and NOECs for both rotifer species and all three antibiotics tested.
Table 2. Inhibitory concentrations for B. calyciflorus and B. plicatilis, in mg/L. For each antibiotic and response variable, the mean, median, and 95 % confidence interval for the IC1, IC10, IC25, and IC50 are shown. NE indicates that the IC was greater than the maximum test concentration (2000 mg/L) and therefore not estimable.
The main conclusions of the study are as follows:
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