Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Texas
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Dabney, B, Patiño, R. 2018. Low-dose stimulation of growth of the harmful alga, Prymnesium parvum, by glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides. Harmful Algae 80, 130-139


Glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) are widely used around the globe. While generally toxic to phototrophs, organic phosphorus in glyphosate can become available to glyphosate-resistant phytoplankton and contribute to algal bloom development. Few studies have examined the effects of GBH on growth of eukaryotic microalgae and information for the toxic bloom-forming haptophyte, Prymnesium parvum, is limited. Using a batch-culture system, this study examined the effects on P. parvum growth of a single application of Roundup Weed and Grass Killer Super Concentrate Plus® (Roundup SC), Roundup Weed and Grass Killer Ready-to-Use III® (Roundup RtU), and technical-grade glyphosate at low concentrations [0-1000 μg glyphosate acid equivalent (ae) l-1]. Roundup formulations differ in the percent of glyphosate as active ingredient (Roundup SC, ~50%; Roundup RtU, 2%), allowing indirect evaluation of the influence of inactive ingredients. Roundup SC enhanced exponential growth rate at 10-1000 μg glyphosate ae l-1, and a positive monotonic association was noted between Roundup SC concentration and early (pre-exponential growth) but not maximum cell density. Glyphosate and both Roundup formulations enhanced growth rate at 100 μg glyphosate l-1, but only Roundup SC and glyphosate significantly stimulated early and maximum density. This observation suggests the higher concentration of inactive ingredients and other compounds in Roundup RtU partially counteracts glyphosate-dependent growth stimulation. When phosphate concentration was varied while maintaining other conditions constant, addition of Roundup SC and glyphosate at 100 μg l-1 influenced growth more strongly than equivalent changes in phosphate-associated phosphorus. It appears, therefore, that low doses of glyphosate stimulate growth by mechanisms unrelated to the associated small increases in total phosphorus. In conclusion, glyphosate and GBH stimulate P. parvum growth at low, environmentally relevant concentrations. This finding raises concerns about the potential contribution to P. parvum blooms by glyphosate-contaminated runoff or by direct application of GBH to aquatic environments.