, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 867–880 | Cite as

Pharmaceutical Compounds and Ecosystem Function: An Emerging Research Challenge for Aquatic Ecologists



The number of anthropogenic compounds that occur in aquatic ecosystems today is in the thousands, many at trace concentrations. One group of compounds that has captured the interest of both the scientific community and the general public is pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs), for example, hormones, chemotherapy drugs, antihistamines, stimulants, antimicrobials and various cosmetic additives. Toxicology of some PPCPs is currently understood, but their effect on ecological structure and function of aquatic ecosystems is largely unknown. We review sources and fates of these compounds in aquatic ecosystems and discuss how methods developed to study aquatic ecosystem ecology can contribute to our understanding of the influence of PPCPs on aquatic ecosystems. We argue that aquatic ecology has a well-developed tool kit for measuring the transformation, fate, and transport of solutes using assays and experiments and that these methods could be employed to investigate how PPCPs impact ecological function. We discuss the details of these approaches and conclude that application of existing ecological methods to the study of this issue could substantially improve our understanding of the effect of these compounds in aquatic ecosystems.


methods ecotoxicology biogeochemical processes large-scale experiments nutrient spiraling aquatic ecosystems 



The authors would like to thank Peter Groffman, Heather Bechtold, Daniel Schindler and 3 anonymous reviewers for their suggestions on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Thank you to the scientific staff at the Cary Institute for discussions about the direction of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  2. 2.School of Public & Environmental Affairs, Indiana University-BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

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