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Portrait of Henrik Smith. Photo.

Henrik Smith


Portrait of Henrik Smith. Photo.

PM 2/21 : Methods for assessing the effects of plant protection products on biodiversity


  • Sandra Lindström
  • Georg K.S. Andersson
  • Lovisa Nilsson
  • Maj Rundlöf
  • Henrik G. Smith

Other contributions

  • Peter Bergkvist
  • Maja Karlsson

Summary, in English

Lund University was commissioned by the Swedish Chemicals Agency to map and describe emerging methodologies that assess the indirect impact of plant protection products on nontarget organism individuals and populations, and studies that evaluates if current risk assessment methodologies are sufficient to assess direct effects of plant protection products on biodiversity. The commission was performed in two parts. First, we made an inventory of
emerging methods to assess indirect effects of plant protection products on non-target organisms among risk assessment authorities in nine countries. Second, we reviewed the scientific literature by performing a systematic search of scientific databases and mapped research discussing method development to assess indirect effects of plant protection products on non-target individuals and populations, and direct effects of plant protection products on biodiversity.

The inventory shows that there are few ongoing attempts to assess indirect effects of plant protection products in the light of environmental risk assessment schemes among the countries we asked. In Germany, requirements were introduced in 2018 to assess the indirect effects of plant protection products via trophic interactions when registering new plant protection products, but these requirements were withdrawn in the autumn of 2019 due to lack of legal basis for their implementation.

Our literature review showed that approaches to assess indirect effects on individuals or populations of plant protection products in a risk assessment context involves both model ecosystems (cosms), field studies, and mathematical, mainly mechanistic effects models. Knowledge of species interactions is a key to understand the underlying mechanisms that
shape how plant protection products impact biodiversity.

While plenty of papers suggest that current risk assessment methodologies are insufficient to safeguard biodiversity, few papers have actually compared how well different environmental risk methodologies protect biodiversity. The current risk assessment methods are based shortterm laboratory studies on single test species, or on simplified communities in mesocosm experiments, which provide information on acute toxicity. The validity and usefulness of such laboratory studies have been criticized for not including variation in space and time,
interactions with other stressors and indirect effects caused by competition and trophic interactions between populations. This hampers the possibility of using them to assess effects on biodiversity in field situations. Furthermore, it is proposed that the current risk assessment of plant protection products can be improved by increasing the representation of test species, including previously neglected taxonomic groups, such as microorganisms and fungi.

According to several studies, future environmental risk assessment methods should to a larger extent than today combine laboratory, field and semi-field studies and mathematical models to capture indirect effects and direct effects on biodiversity. Other proposals are to complement and combine the bottom-up approaches of the current environmental risk assessment, that largely relies on extrapolation of effects on individuals assessed in standard laboratory tests to communities, with top-down approaches such as monitoring of landscape and communities, as well as combine bottom-up and top-down methods, to make accurate assessments of the risks plant protection products poses to biodiversity.


  • Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC)
  • Biodiversity and Conservation Science
  • BECC: Biodiversity and Ecosystem services in a Changing Climate
  • Biodiversity

Publishing year




Document type





  • Environmental Sciences




  • Inventering och förslag: Metod för att bedöma effekter av växtskyddsmedel på den biologiska mångfalden

Research group

  • Biodiversity and Conservation Science