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Typical stream in an agricultural landscape

SPEARpesticides (Species At Risk) is a trait based biological indicator system for streams which quantitatively links pesticide contamination to the composition of invertebrate communities.[1] The approach uses species traits that characterize the ecological requirements posed by pesticide contamination in running waters. Therefore, it is highly specific and only slightly influenced by other environmental factors.[2] SPEARpesticides is linked to the quality classes of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD)[3]


SPEARpesticides has been first developed for Central Germany[1] and updated.[4] SPEARpesticides was adapted and validated for streams and mesocosms worldwide and provides the first ecotoxicological approach to specifically determine the ecological effects of pesticides on aquatic invertebrate communities. Denmark,[5][6] Finland,[6] France,[6] Germany,[1][6] Switzerland Australia[7][8] Russia[9] Mesocosms[10]


Concept of SPEARpesticides

SPEARpesticides estimates pesticide effects and contamination. The calculation is based on monitoring data of invertebrate communities as ascertained for the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). A simplified version of SPEARpesticides is included in the ASTERICS software for assessing the ecological quality of rivers. A detailed analysis is enabled by the free SPEAR Calculator. The SPEAR Calculator provides most recent information on species traits and allows specific user settings. The SPEARpesticides index is computed as relative abundance of vulnerable 'SPecies At Risk' (SPEAR) to be affected by pesticides. Relevant species traits comprises the physiological sensitivity towards pesticides, generation time, migration ability and exposure probability. The indicator value of SPEARpesticides at a sampling site is calculated as follows:

[math]\displaystyle{ SPEAR_{pesticides} = \frac{\sum_{i=1}^n \log(x_i+1)y}{\sum_{i=1}^n \log (x_i+1)} }[/math]

with n = number of taxa; xi = abundance of taxon i; y = 1 if taxon i is classified as SPEAR-sensitive; y = 0 if taxon i is classified as SPEAR-insensitive.

An application is available as download for PC. Web address to download the SPEAR calculator


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Liess M, von der Ohe PC 2005. Analyzing effects of pesticides on invertebrate communities in streams. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.24, (4): 954-965.
  2. Liess M, Schäfer R, Schriever C, 2008. The footprint of pesticide stress in communities - species traits reveal community effects of toxicants.Science of the Total Environment, 406, 484-490.
  3. Beketov MA, Liess M, 2008. An indicator for effects of organic toxicants on lotic invertebrate communities: independence of confounding environmental factors over an extensive river continuum.Environmental Pollution, 156, 980-987.
  4. Knillmann, Saskia; Orlinskiy, Polina; Kaske, Oliver; Foit, Kaarina; Liess, Matthias (2018-07-15). "Indication of pesticide effects and recolonization in streams". Science of the Total Environment 630: 1619–1627. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.02.056. ISSN 0048-9697. PMID 29554778. Bibcode2018ScTEn.630.1619K. 
  5. Rasmussen JJ, McKnight US, Loinaz MC, Thomsen NI, Olsson ME, Bjerg PL, Binning PJ, Kronvang, B. 2013. A catchment scale evaluation of multiple stressor effects in headwater streams. Science of the Total Environment. 442, 420-431.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Schäfer R, vd Ohe P, Rasmussen J, Kefford B, Beketov M, Schulz R, Liess M. 2012. Thresholds for the effects of pesticides on invertebrate communities and leaf breakdown in stream ecosystems. ES&T. 2012, 46, 5134−5142.
  7. Burgert S, Schäfer R, Foit K, Kattwinkel M, Metzeling M, MacEwand R, Kefford BJ, Liess M. 2011. Modelling Aquatic Exposure and Effects of Insecticides - Application to South-Eastern Australia. Science of the Total Environment. 409. 2807-2814.
  8. Schäfer RB, Kefford B, Metzeling L, Liess M, Burgert S, Marchant R, Pettigrove V, Goonan P, Nugegoda D. 2011. A trait database of stream invertebrates for the ecological risk assessment of single and combined effects of salinity and pesticides in South-East Australia.Science of the Total Environment, 406, 484-490.
  9. Schletterer M, Füreder L, Kuzovlev VV, Beketov MA. 2010. Testing the coherence of several macroinvertebrate indices and environmental factors in a large lowland river system (Volga River, Russia). Ecological Indicators. 10(6):1083-1092.
  10. Liess M, Beketov M. 2011. Traits and stress - keys to identify community effects of low levels of toxicants in test systems. Ecotoxiccology. 20(6). 1328-1340.