The goal of this study was to investigate the toxicity of cefalexin to Pomatoschistus microps juveniles in relation to the presence of microplastics in the water and temperature rise. After acclimatization, groups of wild juveniles were exposed for 96 h to artificial salt water (control), microplastics alone (0.184 mg/l), cefalexin alone (1.3–10 mg/l) and in mixture with microplastics (cefalexin: 1.3–10 mg/l; microplastics: 0.184 mg/l) at 20 and 25 °C. Effect criteria were mortality, post-exposure predatory performance (PEPP), acetylcholinesterase activity (AChE) and lipid peroxidation levels (LPO). At 20 °C, concentrations of cefalexin alone ≥ 5 mg/l significantly reduced PEPP (up to 56%; 96h-EC50 = 8.4 mg/l), indicating toxicity of the antibiotic to juveniles after short-term exposure to water concentrations in the low ppm range. At 20 °C, fish exposed to microplastics alone did not have significant differences in any of the parameters tested relative to the control group but tended to have an inhibition of the PEPP (23%) and AChE (21%); at 25 °C, microplastics alone caused mortality (33%) and PEPP inhibition (28%). Thus, microplastics are toxic to P. microps juveniles. At 20 °C, under simultaneous exposure to cefalexin and microplastics, the PEPP was significantly reduced (at cefalexin concentrations ≥ 1.25 mg/l). Moreover, at 25 °C, the toxicity curves of cefalexin (PEPP based), alone and in mixture with microplastics, were significantly different (p < 0.05; 96h-EC50 of 3.8 and 5.2 mg/l, respectively), and the integrated data analysis indicated significant interactions between the two substances for all biomarkers. Thus, the presence of microplastics in the water influenced the toxicity of cefalexin. The rise of water temperature (from 20 °C to 25 °C), increased the microplastics-induced mortality (from 8 to 33%), and the inhibitory effects of cefalexin on the PEPP (up to 70%). Significant differences (p < 0.05) between the toxicity curves of cefalexin alone at distinct temperatures were found, with a lower 96h-EC50 at 25 °C (3.8 mg/l) than at 20 °C (8.4 mg/l). Moreover, at 25 °C, increases of AChE activity (14%) and LPO (72%) in fish exposed to the mixture treatment containing the highest cefalexin concentration were found, and the integrated analysis of data indicated significant interactions between cefalexin and temperature for PEPP, and among all stressors for LPO. Thus, the temperature rise increased the toxicity of microplastics and of cefalexin, alone and in mixture with microplastics, to P. microps juveniles. These findings raise concern on the long-term exposure of wild populations to complex mixtures of pollutants, likely decreasing their fitness, and highlight the need of more research on the combined effects of widely used pharmaceuticals, microplastics and temperature increase on wild species to improve environmental and human risk assessments of chemicals and their safe use under a global warming scenario.
Elsa Fonte, Pedro Ferreira, Lúcia Guilhermino, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 180, November 2016, Pages 173–185