Chronic and pulse exposure effects of silver nanoparticles on natural lake phytoplankton and zooplankton

Jennifer L. Vincent, Michael J. Paterson, Beth C. Norman, Evan P. Gray, James F. Ranville, Andrew B. Scott, Paul C. Frost, Marguerite A. Xenopoulos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The increasing use of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) in consumer products raises concerns regarding the environmental exposure and impact of AgNPs on natural aquatic environments. Here, we investigated the effects of environmentally relevant AgNP concentrations on the natural plankton communities using in situ enclosures. Using twelve lake enclosures, we tested the hypotheses that AgNP concentration, dosing regimen, and capping agent (poly-vinyl pyrrolidone (PVP) vs. citrate) exhibit differential effects on plankton communities. Each of the following six treatments was replicated twice: control (no AgNPs added), low, medium, and high chronic PVP treatments (PVP-capped AgNPs added continuously, with target nominal concentrations of 4, 16, and 64 μg/L, respectively), citrate treatment (citrate-capped AgNPs added continuously, target nominal concentrations of 64 μg/L), and pulse treatment (64 μg/L PVP-AgNPs added as a single dose). Although Ag accumulated in the phytoplankton, no statistically significant treatment effect was found on phytoplankton community structure or biomass. In contrast, as AgNP exposure rate increased, zooplankton abundance generally increased while biomass and species richness declined. We also observed a shift in the size structure of zooplankton communities in the chronic AgNP treatments. In the pulse treatments, zooplankton abundance and biomass were reduced suggesting short periods of high AgNP concentrations affect zooplankton communities differently than chronic exposures. We found no evidence that capping agent affected AgNP toxicity on either community. Overall, our study demonstrates variable AgNP toxicity between trophic levels with stronger AgNP effects on zooplankton. Such effects on zooplankton are troubling and indicate that AgNP contamination could affect aquatic food webs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)502-515
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Community structure
  • Enclosures
  • Experimental lakes area
  • Phytoplankton
  • Silver nanoparticles
  • Zooplankton


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