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Making sense of soil ecotoxicology

January 1, 1995

The toxicity of pesticides and environmental contaminants to soil organisms has been measured in studies on earthworms,1 soil arthropods,3-6 soil microorganisms,7 and other soil organisms.8 Toxicity data on earthworms produced in the pesticide registration procedure required by the OECD (Organization for economic cooperation and Development) will provide data on many additional chemicals.9 Deciding how to use the data generated is troublesome. In 1965, Edwards10 suggested that the effects of soil insecticides on soils may remain long after the pesticides have disappeared, and that it was clear that pesticides could drastically change the populations of soil organisms; Edwards noted, however, that the effects did not seem to be serious when compared with the benefits to crop production of using pesticides. Since 1965, many studies have been conducted on changes in soil ecosystems caused by environmental contaminants, but we still know little about what the toxicity to particular groups of soil organisms means to the functioning of the soil ecosystem. the problem was illustrated in discussions at the International Conference on Earthworm Ecotoxicology in Sheffield, England, in 1991. there was general agreement that earthworms ahould be taken into account when evaluating pesticides. However, it was unclear what level of reduction in earthworm populations would reduce soil quality or crop yeild. Because populations of earthworms naturally fluctuate greatly even in the absence of pesticides, and because some soils are fertile without any earthworms, it is difficult to equate their population decreases with damage to the soil ecosystem. Broadbent and Tomlin found that the insecticide carbofuran caused fluctuations in the populations of some microarthropods in a cornfield but, in comparing the effects to those of cultivation or adding compost, they concluded that it was unlikely that litter decomposition was significantly affected.3

Publication Year 1995
Title Making sense of soil ecotoxicology
Authors W. Nelson Beyer, Greg L. Linder
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 5210584
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center