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How will organisms respond to reduced pesticide use?

Many studies have shown that pesticides affect the health of agricultural soils and waterways. However, how living organisms in our ecosystems react to reduced pesticides use is not yet clearly understood. A research team at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has now received a $1.3 million grant to investigate this issue.

“This knowledge, which up to now has been incomplete or lacking for pesticide mixtures, is key to supporting and justifying the transition to sustainable, environmentally friendly farming,” explained project leader Valérie Langlois, an expert in Ecotoxicogenomics at INRS.  “We need to clearly show that reducing pesticide use has significant benefits for an ecosystem’s soil and water and a limited effect on agricultural yield.”

Professor Langlois and her team will travel to partner producers who are transitioning to organic farming to study ecosystem diversity and the amounts of pesticides in soils and a variety of organisms. They will also visit agricultural waterways to sample microscopic algae and invertebrates in order to assess the health of aquatic environments and measure the accumulation of pesticides in organisms living there. 

Experiments will also be conducted in the laboratory and in mesocosms (outdoor experimental systems simulating natural environments) to test how organisms respond to various pesticide-reduction scenarios. By monitoring a variety of biological indicators, the scientists aim to measure how reducing the use of pesticides will affect terrestrial and aquatic organisms.

“These controlled experiments will help us better understand the toxicity of pesticides and their mixtures to organisms and estimate their response to a change in agricultural practices,” explained project-member Isabelle Lavoie, an expert in the biomonitoring of freshwater ecosystems at INRS. “It will also help us target the pesticides or mixtures of greatest concern so better decisions can be made regarding their use.” 

This project’s results will help agronomists and farmers better manage their fields by offering them clear guidelines for choosing the best types and amounts of pesticides. Moreover, they will also be used to develop conservation criteria for natural environments and the organisms that inhabit them. Finally, the knowledge gained through this research will likely foster improved environmental monitoring using highly efficient toxicity tests to better assess the effects of pesticides on a diversity of ecosystems. 


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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