Using the Tea Bag Index to determine how two human pharmaceuticals affect litter decomposition by aquatic microorganisms.
This study demonstrates that independent additive effects of two human pharmaceuticals, the antibiotic trimethoprim and the artificial estrogen 17a-Ethinylestradiol (EE2), inhibit plant litter decomposition by aquatic microorganisms. The constant release of pharmaceuticals, such as these, has the potential to affect aquatic microbial metabolism and alter biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients. Here we advance the Tea Bag Index (TBI) for decomposition by using it in a series of contaminant exposure experiments testing how interactions between trimethoprim and EE2 affect aquatic microbial activity. The TBI is a citizen science tool used to test microbial activity by measuring the differential degradation of green and rooibos tea as proxies for respectively labile and recalcitrant litter decomposition. Exposure to either trimethoprim or EE2 decreased decomposition of green tea, suggesting additive effects upon microbial activity. Exposure to EE2 alone decreased rooibos tea decomposition. Consequently, trimethoprim and EE2 stabilized labile organic matter against microbial degradation and restricted decomposition. We propose that the method outlined could provide a powerful tool for testing the impacts of multiple interacting pollutants upon microbial activity, at a range of scales, across aquatic systems and over ecologically relevant time scales.
Publication history: Accepted - 25 May 2021; Published - 15 June 2021.
Hunter, W. R., Williamson, A. and Sarneel, J. M. (2021) ‘Using the Tea Bag Index to determine how two human pharmaceuticals affect litter decomposition by aquatic microorganisms’, Ecotoxicology. doi: 10.1007/s10646-021-02435-0.