Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Brian Jensen of The College of Saint Rose reveals how the pesticides we use to make our lawns beautiful could be altering the ecology of rivers and streams.
Dr. Brian Jensen is an associate professor of biology at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y. He completed his Ph.D. in comparative physiology at the University of Delaware, and worked as a National Research Service Award fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Jensen's research interests revolve around the reproductive physiology of fish and, more importantly, teaching undergraduates independent research.
Dr. Brian Jensen - Lawn Pesticides and Fish
Americans like green lawns, so much so that some municipalities have passed ordinances requiring them, and grown men can be seen weeping openly when some tragedy befalls his beloved lawn. We spend hours upon hours grooming our little green monocultures, and to them we apply a myriad of chemicals including fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. While these things do indeed keep our lawns nice and green, one has to wonder what effects they have on the broader biological community.
My research has focused on the basic biology of fish reproduction, and this basic research has led my students and me to start addressing some of the questions surrounding the effects of pesticides on non-target species like fish that live downstream from our lovely lawns. Our lab uses zebrafish, because they are easy to keep in lab, they reproduce daily at a specific time, and their embryos are completely transparent so they are easy to see. The pesticide we work with prevents the normal metabolism of acetylcholine, a hormone that decreases heart rate and is associated in humans with relaxation. Although some of our results are still preliminary, we are finding high mortality rates and deformities at concentrations much lower than you would apply to your lawn, and that even at very low concentrations this pesticide reduces how quickly fish use their yolk, changes their pigmentation, reduces heart rate and increases time until hatching. Any of these changes could affect how fish survive in the wild.
As we move forward, we wonder how this pesticide changes fish behavior; does it cause them to slow down and become easier targets for predators? I expect we will know soon.