Environmental context determines pollution impacts on ecosystem functioning
Oikos - 2022 - Burdon - Environmental context determines pollution impacts on ecosystem functioning.pdf
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Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/15414
Global change assessments have typically ignored synthetic chemical pollution, despite the rapid increase of pharmaceuticals, pesticides and industrial chemicals in the environment. Part of the problem reflects the multifarious origins of these micropollutants, which can derive from urban and agricultural sources. Understanding how micropollutants harm ecosystems is a major scientific challenge due to asymmetries of stress across trophic levels and ecological surprises generated by multiple drivers interacting in human-impacted landscapes. We used field assays above and below municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in 60 sampling locations across 20 Swiss streams to test how micropollutants and nutrients originating from WWTPs affect two trophic levels (microbes and detritivores) and their role in leaf litter processing. Wastewater impacts were asymmetric across trophic levels, with the detritivore contribution declining relative to microbial-driven decomposition. The strength of negative impacts were context dependent, peaking at sites with the highest upstream abundances of detritivorous invertebrates. Diffuse pollution from intensive agriculture and wastewater-born micropollutants contributed to reduced litter processing rates, including indirect effects apparently mediated through negative influences of insecticides on detritivores. Asymmetries in stress responses across trophic levels can introduce quantitative changes in consumer–resource dynamics and leaf litter processing. This means functional redundancies at different trophic levels are insufficient to compensate for biodiversity losses, causing environmental stressors such as chemical pollutants to have pervasive ecosystem-level impacts.
© 2022 The Authors. Oikos published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.