Exploring mayflies and bats: assessing the risk to chemicals (EMBARC)


What is EMBARC?

The project involves developing ecological models for assessing the risk of agrochemicals to bats and mayflies. It is funded by the Future Leaders Fellowship programme by UK Research and Innovation, running from 1 October 2021 to 30 September 2025.

Objectives of EMBARC

The objectives are to develop new effects models for bats and mayflies as part of an adverse outcome pathway approach, combining experimental data with state-of-the-art resource allocation modelling from first principles, to understand the toxicity of chemicals to populations and better inform the decision-making process in the environmental risk assessment of plant protection products to support sustainable agriculture in the future.

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Project 1: Mayflies

Mesocosms are the highest tier of experimental aquatic system currently used in agrochemical risk assessment. However, they suffer from a number of limitations, including issues with emergent insects such as Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera (EPT). EPT are used under the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) to assess the health of waterbodies in the EU, as they are sensitive to environmental changes due to their long reproductive cycles and low tolerance to some chemicals and as such, their inclusion in mesocosms is critical. However, these taxa are often found in low abundance in mesocosms and the data are highly variable, meaning that identifying significant effects or not of a chemical on these taxa is hugely challenging. In this project, a mechanistic effects model that links resource allocation decisions at the organism level with emerging dynamics of populations (DEB-IBM) will be developed. This model will then be coupled with a toxicity module calibrated with experimental data, to explore the population level impacts of chemical exposure and thus provide an alternative to mesocosms and the issues associated with their performance.

  • Establish a stable laboratory mayfly culture
  • Perform experimental studies with mayflies on their physiology and response to chemical exposure
  • Develop, calibrate, validate and test a mayfly population model for chemical risk assessment

Project 2: Bats

Bats are not currently considered in the risk assessment of agrochemicals in the UK and Europe; however, they are known to inhabit agricultural land and feed on common agricultural insects. Intensification of agriculture has been identified as a key driver for bat population declines, with the associated exposure to legacy agrochemicals (e.g., organochlorines) being directly linked to mass mortality events in bat populations. This has led to a general assumption in the scientific community that bats are exposed to agrochemicals and that these could lead to adverse effects on individuals and populations. This is reflected in the recent European Food Safety Authority (EFSA 2019) scientific opinion that concluded that in some instances, the risks to bats were not adequately covered by current risk assessment requirements under EC 1107/2009. However, significant data gaps have been identified when trying to quantify routes of exposure, sensitivity to agrochemicals and relevance of effects on bat populations (e.g., Brooks et al. 2021). EMBARC will fill some of these data gaps, incorporating fieldwork and effects modelling approaches, including

  • monitoring species richness and activity in agricultural landscapes
  • undertaking field studies to explore the level of disturbance associated with agrochemical application (e.g., noise, artificial light, spray)
  • developing population models to explore the sublethal effects of agrochemicals on long-term population stability
  • collaborating within EMBARC.

Prof. Mark Whittingham and James Standen, Newcastle University

Dr Nadine Taylor and Dr Amy Brooks, Cambridge Environmental Assessments

Dr Roman Ashauer, Syngenta

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