Current herbicide risk assessment guidelines for nontarget terrestrial plants require testing effects on young, vulnerable life stages (i.e., seedling emergence [and subsequent growth] and vegetative vigor [growth and dry wt]) but not directly on the reproduction of plants. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has proposed that effects on reproduction might be considered when evaluating the potential effects on plants. We adapted the plant community model for grassland (IBC-grass) to give insight into the current debate on the sensitivity of reproductive versus vegetative endpoints in ecological risk assessment. In an extensive sensitivity analysis of this model, we compared plant attributes potentially affected by herbicides and the consequences for long-term plant population dynamics and plant diversity. This evaluation was implemented by reducing reproductive as well as vegetative endpoints by certain percentages (e.g., 10-90%) as a theoretical assumption. Plant mortality and seed sterility (i.e., inability of seeds to germinate) were the most sensitive attributes. Our results indicated that effects on seed production at off-field exposure rates must be very strong to have an impact on the risk assessment. Otherwise, effects on seed production are compensated for by the soil seed bank. The present study highlights the usefulness of community level modeling studies to support regulators in their decisions on the appropriate risk assessment endpoints and provides confidence in their assessments. Environ Toxicol Chem 2018;37:1707-1722. © 2018 SETAC.
Keywords: Ecological risk assessment; Ecotoxicology; Herbicide; Nontarget terrestrial plants; Plant community model; Plant reproduction.
© 2018 SETAC.