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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Wastewater effluent affects behaviour and metabolomic endpoints in damselfly larvae

Spath, Jana; Fick, Jerker; McCallum, Erin; Cerveny, Daniel; Nording, Malin L.; Brodin, Tomas


Wastewater treatment plant effluents have been identified as a major contributor to increasing anthropogenic pollution in aquatic environments worldwide. Yet, little is known about the potentially adverse effects of wastewater treatment plant effluent on aquatic invertebrates. In this study, we assessed effects of wastewater effluent on the behaviour and metabolic profiles of damselfly larvae (Coenagrion hastulatum), a common aquatic invertebrate species. Four key behavioural traits: activity, boldness, escape response, and foraging (traits all linked tightly to individual fitness) were studied in larvae before and after one week of exposure to a range of effluent dilutions (0, 50, 75, 100%). Effluent exposure reduced activity and foraging, but generated faster escape response. Metabolomic analyses via targeted and non-targeted mass spectrometry methods revealed that exposure caused significant changes to 14 individual compounds (4 amino acids, 3 carnitines, 3 lysolipids, 1 peptide, 2 sugar acids, 1 sugar). Taken together, these compound changes indicate an increase in protein metabolism and oxidative stress. Our findings illustrate that wastewater effluent can affect both behavioural and physiological traits of aquatic invertebrates, and as such might pose an even greater threat to aquatic ecosystems than previously assumed. More long-term studies are now needed evaluate if these changes are linked to adverse effects on fitness. The combination of behavioural and metabolomic assessments provide a promising tool for detecting effects of wastewater effluent, on multiple biological levels of organisation, in aquatic ecosystems.

Published in

Scientific Reports
2022, Volume: 12, article number: 6830