Nanosilver impacts on aquatic microbial decomposers and litter decomposition assessed as pollution-induced community tolerance (PICT)†
The growing proliferation of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) calls for detailed information on ecotoxicological effects, particularly on diverse communities and key ecosystem processes where impacts remain poorly known. This includes the decomposition of plant litter by fungi and bacteria in streams. Impacts are likely to depend on community composition, because species vary in their sensitivities to stressors. Therefore, our goal was to determine if shifts in microbial communities triggered by chronic exposure to low concentrations of nano (<200 μg L−1) and ionic (20 μg L−1) silver increase community tolerance to these contaminants, as described in the pollution-induced community tolerance (PICT) concept. We used stream microbial decomposers associated with leaf litter in microcosms to assess the applicability of this concept by determining tolerance acquisition towards AgNP and ionic Ag in short-term inhibition assays. Endpoints included fungal sporulation, bacterial production, microbial respiration and the potential activity of a protein-degrading enzyme, leucine aminopeptidase. Analyses of microbial communities showed that chronic exposure to the highest AgNP concentrations led to similar communities, and that these were distinct from the control communities. Most important, chronic exposure of fungi and bacteria to both AgNP and ionic Ag also increased tolerance of the microbes, as revealed by notably reduced adverse effects on bacterial production. Overall, our results demonstrate the usefulness of applying the PICT concept to litter decomposers and decomposition as an approach to assess the risks posed by nano and ionic silver to freshwater ecosystems.