Research assessing the risks and impacts on wildlife and ecosystems of pharmaceuticals in the environment is published today in a themed issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

The new issue introduces the latest research investigating the potentially potent risks that pharmaceuticals pose to the health and long-term viability of wild animals and ecosystems.

Scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) led two of the studies reported on in the special issue.

In one paper, Prof Richard Shore of CEH, working with international collaborators, has reviewed the potential for developing “ecopharmacovigilance” strategies for higher vertebrates. His paper determined how approaches within existing surveillance and risk assessment schemes (such as the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme run by CEH) can be adapted and enhanced to provide platforms for assessing the risk from pharmaceuticals in terrestrial and freshwater systems. It also identifies where new approaches are required and how these could be delivered.Pathways of pharmaceutical releases to freshwaters.

Meanwhile in a study led by Prof Andrew Johnson of CEH, pharmaceuticals were put into the wider context of challenges to fish populations in rivers. It found that some stressors for fish in freshwaters have had a devastating effect on populations while others can cause significant deterioration, but that the challenge posed by pharmaceuticals had not yet been demonstrated to be a threat to fish population size.

“With thousands of pharmaceuticals in use globally, many of which are designed to have biological effects at low concentrations, pharmaceuticals have the potential to have potent effects on wildlife and ecosystems,’’ said Dr Kathryn Arnold, one of the editors of this themed issue. “Given the many benefits of pharmaceuticals, there is a need for science to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks posed by pharmaceuticals.”

The two papers led by CEH are open access and available on the Royal Society website.

Additional information

Shore, Richard; Taggart, Mark; Smits, Judit; Mateo, Rafael; Richards, Ngaio; Fryday, Steve. Detection and drivers of exposure and effects of pharmaceuticals in higher vertebrates. 2014. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0570 (open access)

Johnson, Andrew; Sumpter, John. Putting pharmaceuticals into the wider context of challenges to fish populations in rivers. 2014. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0581 (open access)

Full theme issue table of contents

Related CEH links

Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme

Staff page of Professor Richard Shore

Staff page of Professor Andrew Johnson

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