Issue compiled and edited by Kathryn Arnold, Ross Brown, Gerald Ankley and John Sumpter
Expanding and aging human populations require ever increasing amounts of pharmaceuticals to maintain health. Recent studies have revealed that pharmaceuticals, both human and veterinary, disperse widely in aquatic and terrestrial environments with uptake into a range of organisms. Pharmaceuticals are designed to have biological actions at low concentrations rendering them potentially potent environmental contaminants. The potential risks that pharmaceuticals pose to the health and long-term viability of wild animals and ecosystems are only beginning to be assessed and understood.
This theme issue introduces the latest research investigating the risks of environmentally relevant concentrations of pharmaceuticals to vertebrate wildlife. In some cases the effects can be dramatic, such as the near extinction of three species of vulture in India after eating the carcasses of livestock that had been treated with the anti-inflammatory diclofenac. However, this issue also shows that effects can be more subtle but still have potentially significant impacts. Changes to behaviour of fish and birds after exposure to low concentrations of psychiatric drugs can alter foraging patterns, activity levels and risk taking. With thousands of pharmaceuticals in use globally, this issue presents approaches for prioritising which products have the potential to cause harm to wildlife and ecosystems. Given the many benefits of pharmaceuticals, there is a need for science to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks posed by pharmaceuticals.
This issue arose from a Royal Society-funded Research Fellow International Scientific Seminar held in April 2013. An open access meeting report was published in Biology Letters in August 2013.
Guest editor Kathryn Arnold speaks to Ruth Milne about the issue.
Kathryn Arnold speaks to Ruth Milne about her paper Behavioural and physiological responses of birds to environmentally relevant concentrations of an antidepressant, which talks about the effects of Prozac on starlings.
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