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Cumulative toxicity of neonicotinoid insecticide mixtures to Chironomus dilutus under acute exposure scenarios

Extensive agricultural use of neonicotinoid insecticide products has resulted in the presence of neonicotinoid mixtures in surface waters worldwide. Although many aquatic insect species are known to be sensitive to neonicotinoids, the impact of neonicotinoid mixtures is poorly understood. In the study by Maloney et al., the cumulative toxicity of binary and ternary mixtures of select neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam) was characterized under acute (96-h) exposure scenarios using the larval midge Chironomus dilutus as a representative aquatic insect species. Using the MIXTOX approach, predictive parametric models were fitted and statistically compared with observed toxicity in subsequent mixture tests. Single-compound toxicity tests yielded median lethal concentration (LC50) values of 4.63, 5.93, and 55.34 µg/L for imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam, respectively. Because of the similar modes of action of neonicotinoids, concentration-additive cumulative mixture toxicity was the predicted model. However, the authors found that imidacloprid–clothianidin mixtures demonstrated response-additive dose-level–dependent synergism, clothianidin–thiamethoxam mixtures demonstrated concentration-additive synergism, and imidacloprid–thiamethoxam mixtures demonstrated response-additive dose-ratio–dependent synergism, with toxicity shifting from antagonism to synergism as the relative concentration of thiamethoxam increased. Imidacloprid–clothianidin–thiamethoxam ternary mixtures demonstrated response-additive synergism. These results indicate that, under acute exposure scenarios, the toxicity of neonicotinoid mixtures to C. dilutus cannot be predicted using the common assumption of additive joint activity. Indeed, the overarching trend of synergistic deviation emphasizes the need for further research into the ecotoxicological effects of neonicotinoid insecticide mixtures in field settings, the development of better toxicity models for neonicotinoid mixture exposures, and the consideration of mixture effects when setting water quality guidelines for this class of pesticides.