A full life-cycle (:! 26 days exposure) toxicity test with the harpacticoid copepod Nitocra spinipes was used to study the effects of one nitro musk (musk ketone) as well as three polycyclic musks (Tonalide(TM), Celestolide(TM) and Galaxolide(TM)). A subchronic individual life-table endpoint, the larval development rate, was recorded after 7-8 days exposure of juveniles and was significantly decreased in copepods exposed to sublethal concentrations of musk ketone, Celestolide(TM) and Galaxolide(TM). However, none of the Tonalide(TM) concentrations had any effect on larval development. The lowest Galaxolide(TM) concentration (0.02 mg/l), which affected juvenile development, was about 100 times below the adult 96-h-LC50-value of 1.9 mg/l (95% confidence interval: 1.4-2.7 mg/l). However, none of the four musks had any agonistic or antagonistic activity in the ecdysteroid-sensitive Drosophila melanogaster B-II-cell line. This indicates that the decrease in larval development rate was due to pharmacological effects rather than steroid receptor-mediated endocrine disruption. A modified Euler-Lotka equation was used to calculate a population-level endpoint, the intrinsic rate of natural increase (r(m)), from individual life-table endpoints, i.e. mortality rate, time of release of first brood, sex ratio, the fraction of ovigerous females among all females as well as the number of nauplii per ovigerous female. The second highest musk ketone concentration (0.1 mg/l) was the only treatment, which significantly affected r(m) (***P <0.001). At the highest musk ketone (0.3 mg/l) and Celestolide(TM) (0.3 mg/l) concentrations, all copepods were dead at the end of the exposures. This shows that a sensitive individual life-table endpoint is protective over the population-level endpoint r(m). Though we think that it is necessary to obtain population-level endpoints from standardised toxicity test, for ecologically successful risk characterisation of synthetic musks as well as other chemicals. The results from the present study show that it is possible to obtain population-level data from the full life-cycle test with N. spinipes. However, there seems to be little risk that synthetic musks are harmful to copepods at present environmental concentrations. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.