Glyphosate Reduces Ocean Carbon Sequestration and Damages Coral Reefs – New Study

Posted on Apr 2 2024 - 1:49am by Sustainable Pulse

Large benthic foraminifera (LBF), a single-celled organism found on coral reefs, face adverse metabolic impacts after exposure to the weed killer glyphosate and insecticide imidacloprid, according to a study led by scientists from the University of Vienna in Austria and published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The Austrian study found that “even the lowest doses of the pesticides caused irreparable damage to the foraminifera and their symbionts.”

LBFs are typically used as bioindicators for coral health because they are found in substantial quantities and gathering data on them is not intrusive or damaging to reef health.

The study authors stated that, “the concentration of active pesticide substances, which can be found in the environment are not a factor of 10 smaller than ours tested, they are approximately the same concentration or even 10 times higher. The photosynthetic area decreased as the amount of pesticide added increased and as the incubation time increased.” Glyphosate-based Roundup in particular “caused a reduction of the photosynthetic area in all foraminifera…independent of concentration.”

The scientists also discovered that, “Foraminiferal [inorganic carbon] 13C uptake was significantly reduced at the highest pesticide concentration compared to the control (p < 0.001). The herbicide and fungicide showed comparable reductions of 13C uptake (p = 0.945), the reduction caused by the insecticide was less pronounced.”

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This unique study found that even low concentrations of pesticides can have a negative impact on the metabolism of marine organisms. This applies not only to the foraminiferal host but also to their symbionts. By examining differences in nitrogen and carbon uptake, the study showed that the fungicide Pronto©Plus (tebuconazole) is toxic to both the host and its symbiont, whereas the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and insecticide Confidor (imidacloprid) mainly have negative effects on the symbionts. However, as the symbionts are obligatory, symbiont death (bleaching) ultimately leads also to the death of the foraminifera.

Already today, climate change leads to heavy storms and heavy rainfall along coastal areas, which together with increased use of pesticides due to intensive agriculture, may lead to a significant increase in pesticide concentrations in the sea in the near future. The study shows that this negative effect of pesticides can be observed on foraminifera. It is also present in corals and other organisms hosting obligatory phototrophic protist symbionts.

The study authors concluded; “the discharge of pesticides into the sea can have severe negative impacts on foraminifera, even at low concentrations, making these compounds a serious threat to the health of marine reefs.”

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