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Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2008 Jun;15(4):322-31. doi: 10.1007/s11356-008-0008-1. Epub 2008 May 20.

Comparing growth development of Myriophyllum spp. in laboratory and field experiments for ecotoxicological testing.

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  • 1University of Basel Program of Sustainability Research, Klingelbergstr. 50, 4051 Basel, Switzerland.


BACKGROUND, GOALS AND SCOPE: Risk assessment of herbicides and the evaluation of contaminated sediments based on algae and the macrophyte Lemna sp. alone may underestimate the potential hazard of certain compounds. Therefore, various test systems with Myriophyllum spp. have been developed recently to assess the phytotoxicity in surface waters and natural sediments. In the present study, experiments investigating the growth development of Myriophyllum spp. were performed in the laboratory under defined conditions and in mesocosms under environmentally realistic exposure conditions to evaluate the suitability of these species as potential standard test organisms in ecotoxicological testing. This study provides data on the endpoints biomass, plant length and root development.


Six independent experiments were performed to investigate the plant development of Myriophyllum spp. under control conditions. The main difference in the experiments was the complexity of the test systems ranging from simple laboratory experiments to complex outdoor mesocosm studies. At the start of each experiment, uniform cuttings of Myriophyllum spp. were placed in vessels with or without sediments to reduce variability between replicates. The endpoints considered in this investigation were biomass (fresh weight of the whole plant), length of the main shoot, length of the side shoots, total length of the plant (calculated from the length of the main and side shoots) and root formation. Root to shoot ratios were calculated as a further measure for plant development. Relative growth rates (RGR) based on plant length (RG(L)R) and on biomass (RG(B)R) were calculated.


Despite the various experimental conditions, comparable growth was obtained in all test systems and the variability of endpoints, such as total length and biomass of plants, was low. It was observed that the RGR of M. spicatum in the simple laboratory test system with sediment were comparable to growth data obtained for M. verticillatum and M. spicatum grown in indoor and outdoor mesocosms, thus indicating that Myriophyllum growth tends to increase by the addition of sediment. High variability was determined for the endpoints length of the side shoots, total root length and biomass of roots.


One challenge for a test design to investigate phytotoxicity on aquatic plants is to obtain good growth of the plants. From the results, it can be concluded that the experimental conditions in the various test systems were suitable to study the plant development of Myriophyllum spp. because obtained growth rates were comparable between laboratory and field investigations. Another challenge for developing a plant biotest system is the definition of sensitive endpoints. Low variability is preferred to detect minor effects of chemicals or polluted sediments on plant development. In our studies, the variability of the endpoints biomass and total length of plant was low and, therefore, they have much potential as endpoints for assessing toxicity.


The methodologies presented in this study have applications within the risk assessment for aquatic plants and have the advantage of assessing effects taking into account the relevant exposure pathways via water and/or sediment for compounds under investigation.


Setting safe quality criteria for surface water and sediments is one of the challenges authorities are facing today. Myriophyllum spp. is recommended as suitable test species to investigate phytotoxicity in surface water and sediments. These results, thus, might serve as a basis for the compilation of a new harmonised guideline for ecotoxicological testing with aquatic macrophytes.

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