In the last decade, European and American researchers have found more evidence that lakes and streams are tainted by common drugs, ranging from caffeine to anticancer agents.
This pollution, says Colleen Flaherty, a UW-Madison zoologist, has direct ties to humans, either through the improper disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals or through the ingestion of the drugs.
"Up to 80 percent of drugs taken by humans and domesticated animals can be excreted in their biologically active form," explains Flaherty. This means that the antibiotics, antidepressants and anti-inflammatory pills we either take or throw out can eventually end up polluting the environment and harming the organisms that live in it.
Says UW-Madison zoologist Stanley Dodson, who studies freshwater ecology, "Pharmaceuticals can be detected in many surface water streams and lakes, yet we know little about how these strongly biologically active chemicals affect the ecology of aquatic organisms."
Flaherty will present findings from her study -- one of the first to document the effects of commonly-prescribed drugs on Daphnia, a zooplankton integral to freshwater ecosystems -- Thursday, Aug. 7, at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.
"Daphnia play a key ecological role in freshwater sources," says Flaherty. "They are an intermediate organism in these ecosystems -- they eat the algae and are eaten by the fish. If something happens to Daphnia, it could affect both the algae and the fish populations."
To determine the influence of pharmaceuticals on this key freshwater species, Flaherty tested Daphnia's biological response to commonly prescr
Contact: Colleen Flaherty
University of Wisconsin-Madison