Nano-ecotoxicology in a changing ocean


The ocean faces an era of change, driven in large by the release of anthropogenic CO2, and the unprecedented entry of pollutants into the water column. Nanomaterials, those particles < 100 nm, represent an emerging contaminant of environmental concern. Research on the ecotoxicology and fate of nanomaterials in the natural environment has increased substantially in recent years. However, commonly such research does not consider the wider environmental changes that are occurring in the ocean, i.e., ocean warming and acidification, and occurrence of co-contaminants. In this review, the current literature available on the combined impacts of nanomaterial exposure and (i) ocean warming, (ii) ocean acidification, (iii) co-contaminant stress, upon marine biota is explored. Here, it is identified that largely co-stressors influence nanomaterial ecotoxicity by altering their fate and behaviour in the water column, thus altering their bioavailability to marine organisms. By acting in this way, such stressors, are able to mitigate or elevate toxic effects of nanomaterials in a material-specific manner. However, current evidence is limited to a relatively small set of test materials and model organisms. Indeed, data is biased towards effects upon marine bivalve species. In future, expanding studies to involve other ecologically significant taxonomic groups, primarily marine phytoplankton will be highly beneficial. Although limited in number, the available evidence highlights the importance of considering co-occurring environmental changes in ecotoxicological research, as it is likely in the natural environment, the material of interest will not be the sole stressor encountered by biota. As such, research examining ecotoxicology alongside co-occurring environmental stressors is essential to effectively evaluating risk and develop effective long-term management strategies.

Article highlights

  • Ocean warming and acidification alter the fate and behaviour of nanomaterials, in turn altering their bioavailability and toxicity
  • Research is currently limited to a number of model materials and organisms
  • Consideration of environmental change is critical to long-term evaluation of pollutant risk in the natural environment

Dedman C. J., 2022. Nano-ecotoxicology in a changing ocean. SN Applied Science 4: 264. doi: 10.1007/s42452-022-05147-0. Article.

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