MEPS 251:153-167 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps251153

Effects of herbicides diuron and atrazine on corals of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Ross J. Jones1,*, Jochen Muller2, David Haynes3, Ulrich Schreiber4

1Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
2National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology (NRCET), Coopers Plains, Queensland 4121, Australia
3Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
4Julius-von-Sachs Institut für Biowissenschaften, Universität Würzburg, Julius-von-Sachs-Platz 2, 97082 Würzburg, Germany

ABSTRACT: In response to recent reports of contamination of the nearshore marine environment along the Queensland coast by herbicides (including areas inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park), an ecotoxicological assessment was conducted of the impact of the herbicides diuron and atrazine on scleractinian corals. Pulse-amplitude modulated (PAM) chlorophyll fluorescence techniques were used to assess the herbicide effects on the symbiotic dinoflagellates within the tissues (in hospite) of 4 species of coral (Acropora formosa, Montipora digitata, Porites cylindrica, Seriatopora hystrix) in static toxicity tests, and in freshly isolated symbiotic dinoflagellates from Stylophora pistillata. Using change in the effective quantum yield (ΔF/Fm¹) as an effect criterion, diuron (no observable effect concentration, NOEC = 0.3 µg l-1; lowest observable effect concentration, LOEC = 1 µg l-1; median effective concentration, EC50 = 4 to 6 µg l-1) was found to be more toxic than atrazine (NOEC = 1 µg l-1, LOEC = 3 µg l-1, EC50 = 40 to 90 µg l-1) in short-term (10 h) toxicity tests. In the tests with isolated algae, significant reductions in ΔF/Fm¹ were recorded as low as 0.25 µg l-1 diuron (LOEC, EC50 = 5 µg l-1). Time-course experiments indicated that the effects of diuron were rapid and reversible. At 10 µg l-1 diuron, ΔF/Fm¹ was reduced by 25% in 20 to 30 min, and by 50% in 60 to 90 min. Recovery of ΔF/Fm¹ in corals exposed to 10 µg l-1 diuron and then transferred to running seawater was slower, returning to within 10% of control values inside 1 to 7 h. The effect of a reduction in salinity (35 to 27”) on diuron toxicity (at 1 and 3 µg l-1 diuron) was tested to examine the potential consequences of contaminated coastal flood plumes inundating inshore reefs. ΔF/Fm¹ was reduced in the diuron-exposed corals, but there was no significant interaction between diuron and reduced salinity seawater within the 10 h duration of the test. Exposure to higher (100 and 1000 µg l-1) diuron concentrations for 96 h caused a reduction in ΔF/Fm¹, the ratio variable to maximal fluorescence (Fv/Fm), a significant loss of symbiotic dinoflagellates and pronounced tissue retraction, causing the corals to pale or bleach. The significance of the results in relation to diuron contamination of the coastal marine environment from terrestrial sources (mainly agricultural) and marine sources (antifouling paints) are discussed.

KEY WORDS: Coral · Coral bleaching · Symbiotic dinoflagellate · Diuron · Atrazine · Herbicide · Chlorophyll fluorescence

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