Engineered nanoparticles interact with nutrients to intensify eutrophication in a wetland ecosystem experiment

Despite the rapid rise in diversity and quantities of engineered nanomaterials produced, the impacts of these emerging contaminants on the structure and function of ecosystems have received little attention from ecologists. Moreover, little is known about how manufactured nanomaterials may interact with nutrient pollution in altering ecosystem productivity, despite the recognition that eutrophication is the primary water quality issue in freshwater ecosystems worldwide. In this study, the authors asked two main questions: (1) To what extent do manufactured nanoparticles affect the biomass and productivity of primary producers in wetland ecosystems? (2) How are these impacts mediated by nutrient pollution? To address these questions, the impacts of a citrate-coated gold nanoparticle (AuNPs) and of a commercial pesticide containing Cu(OH)2 nanoparticles (CuNPs) on aquatic primary producers were evaluated under both ambient and enriched nutrient conditions. Wetland mesocosms were exposed repeatedly with low concentrations of nanoparticles and nutrients over the course of a 9-month experiment in an effort to replicate realistic field exposure scenarios. In the absence of nutrient enrichment, there were no persistent effects of AuNPs or CuNPs on primary producers or ecosystem productivity. However, when combined with nutrient enrichment, both NPs intensified eutrophication. When either of these NPs were added in combination with nutrients, algal blooms persisted for >50 d longer than in the nutrient-only treatment. In the AuNP treatment, this shift from clear waters to turbid waters led to large declines in both macrophyte growth and rates of ecosystem gross primary productivity (average reduction of 52% ± 6% and 92% ± 5%, respectively) during the summer. The results suggest that nutrient status greatly influences the ecosystem-scale impact of two emerging contaminants and that synthetic chemicals may be playing an under-appreciated role in the global trends of increasing eutrophication. This study provides evidence here that chronic exposure to Au and Cu(OH)2 nanoparticles at low concentrations can intensify eutrophication of wetlands and promote the occurrence of algal blooms.

Authors: Simonin M, Colman BP, Anderson SM, King RS, Ruis MT, Avellan A, Bergemann CM, Perrotta BG, Geitner NK, Ho M, de la Barrera B, Unrine JM, Lowry GV, Richardson CJ, Wiesner MR, Bernhardt ES.