Buffer strip width and agricultural pesticide contamination in Danish lowland streams: Implications for stream and riparian management

Jes J. Rasmussen, Annette Baattrup-Pedersen, Peter Wiberg-Larsen, Ursula S. McKnight, Brian Kronvang

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According to the European Water Framework Directive, member states are obliged to ensure that all surface water bodies achieve at least good ecological status and to identify major anthropogenic stressors. Non-point source contamination of agricultural pesticides is widely acknowledged as one of the most important anthropogenic stressors in stream ecosystems.We surveyed the occurrence of 31 pesticides and evaluated their potential toxicity for benthic macroinvertebrates using Toxic Units (TU) in 14 Danish 1st-and 2nd-order streams in bed sediments and stream water during storm flow and base flow. Total pesticide concentrations and toxic potential were highest during storm flow events with maximum TU ranging from −6.63 to −1.72. We found that minimum buffer strip width in the near upstream area was the most important parameter governing TU. Furthermore, adding a function for minimum buffer strip width to the Runoff Potential (RP) model increased its power to predict measured TUs from 46% to 64%. However, including a function for tile drainage capacity is probably equally important and should be considered in future research in order to further optimise the RP model. Our results clearly emphasise the importance of considering buffer strips as risk mitigation tools in terms of non-point source pesticide contamination. We furthermore apply our results for discussing the minimum dimensions that vegetated buffer strips should have in order to sufficiently protect stream ecosystems from pesticide contamination and maintain good ecological status.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcological Engineering
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)1990-1997
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Non-point sources
  • Buffer strip
  • Pesticides
  • Water framework directive
  • Runoff

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