Were the sharp declines of dragonfly populations in the 1990s in Japan caused by fipronil and imidacloprid? An analysis of Hill's causality for the case of Sympetrum frequens

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2018 Dec;25(35):35352-35364. doi: 10.1007/s11356-018-3440-x. Epub 2018 Oct 20.


Neonicotinoids and fipronil are the most widely used insecticides in the world. Previous studies showed that these compounds have high toxicity to a wide taxonomic range of non-target invertebrates. In rice cultivation, they are frequently used for nursery-box treatment of rice seedlings. The use of fipronil and neonicotinoid imidacloprid is suspected to be the main cause of population declines of red dragonflies, in particular Sympetrum frequens, because they have high lethal toxicity to dragonfly nymphs and the timing of the insecticides' introduction in Japan (i.e., the late 1990s) overlapped with the sharp population declines. However, a causal link between application of these insecticides and population declines of the dragonflies remains unclear. Therefore, we estimated the amount of the insecticides applied for nursery-box treatment of rice seedlings and analyzed currently available information to evaluate the causality between fipronil and imidacloprid usage and population decline of S. frequens using Hill's causality criteria. Based on our scoring of Hill's nine criteria, the strongest lines of evidence were strength, plausibility, and coherence, whereas the weakest were temporality and biological gradient. We conclude that the use of these insecticides, particularly fipronil, was a major cause of the declines of S. frequens in Japan in the 1990s, with a high degree of certainty. The existing information and our analyses, however, do not allow us to exclude the possibility that some agronomic practices (e.g., midsummer drainage or crop rotation) that can severely limit the survival of aquatic nymphs also played a role in the dragonfly's decline.

Keywords: Agrochemicals; Neonicotinoid; Nursery box; Odonata; Paddy fields; Pesticides; Phenylpyrazole; Rice fields.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Insecticides / analysis
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Japan
  • Neonicotinoids / analysis
  • Neonicotinoids / toxicity*
  • Nitro Compounds / analysis
  • Nitro Compounds / toxicity*
  • Odonata / drug effects*
  • Odonata / growth & development
  • Oryza / growth & development
  • Population Dynamics
  • Pyrazoles / analysis
  • Pyrazoles / toxicity*
  • Seasons


  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Nitro Compounds
  • Pyrazoles
  • imidacloprid
  • fipronil