Toxicity of pesticides to aquatic microorganisms: a review

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2001 Jan;20(1):84-98. doi: 10.1897/1551-5028(2001)020<0084:toptam>;2.


Microorganisms contribute significantly to primary production, nutrient cycling, and decomposition in estuarine eco-systems; therefore, detrimental effects of pesticides on microbial species may have subsequent impacts on higher trophic levels. Pesticides may affect estuarine microorganisms via spills, runoff, and drift. Both the structure and the function of microbial communities may be impaired by pesticide toxicity. Pesticides may also be metabolized or bioaccumulated by microorganisms. Mechanisms of toxicity vary, depending on the type of pesticide and the microbial species exposed. Herbicides are generally most toxic to phototrophic microorganisms, exhibiting toxicity by disrupting photosynthesis. Atrazine is the most widely used and most extensively studied herbicide. Toxic effects of organophosphate and organochlorine insecticides on microbial species have also been demonstrated, although their mechanisms of toxicity in such nontarget species remain unclear. There is a great deal of variability in the toxicity of even a single pesticide among microbial species. When attempting to predict the toxicity of pesticides in estuarine ecosystems, effects of pesticide mixtures and interactions with nutrients should be considered. The toxicity of pesticides to aquatic microorganisms, especially bacteria and protozoa, is an area of research requiring further study.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Marine Biology*
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Pesticides
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical