Cascading effects of pesticide use
It is now well known that neonicotinoids negatively affect pollinators. As research has expanded, it has become clear that these globally used insecticides directly affect other ecosystem components, including vertebrates. Yamamuro et al. now show that these compounds are indirectly affecting species through trophic cascades (see the Perspective by Jensen). Since the application of neonicotinoids to agricultural fields began in the 1990s, zooplankton biomass has plummeted in a Japanese lake surrounded by these fields. This decline has led to shifts in food web structure and a collapse of two commercially harvested freshwater fish species. The authors argue that such dynamics are likely occurring widely.
Invertebrate declines are widespread in terrestrial ecosystems, and pesticide use is often cited as a causal factor. Here, we report that aquatic systems are threatened by the high toxicity and persistence of neonicotinoid insecticides. These effects cascade to higher trophic levels by altering food web structure and dynamics, affecting higher-level consumers. Using data on zooplankton, water quality, and annual fishery yields of eel and smelt, we show that neonicotinoid application to watersheds since 1993 coincided with an 83% decrease in average zooplankton biomass in spring, causing the smelt harvest to collapse from 240 to 22 tons in Lake Shinji, Shimane Prefecture, Japan. This disruption likely also occurs elsewhere, as neonicotinoids are currently the most widely used class of insecticides globally.