Pesticides affect the health of agricultural soils and waterways. But how do living organisms in our ecosystems react if we reduce the use of these contaminants? Professor Valérie Langlois of the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS) is looking for the answer to this question. His team has just received close to $1.3 million in funding from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) to carry out this work.
“This knowledge, hitherto incomplete or missing for pesticide mixtures, is essential to support and justify the transition to sustainable agriculture that respects the environment,” explains ecotoxicogenomics expert Valérie Langlois. “We need to make it clear that reducing pesticide use has significant benefits to an ecosystem’s soil and water and a limited effect on agricultural yield.”
Professor Langlois pointed out that successful restoration of an ecosystem requires the use of biological indicators. This makes it possible to determine whether the measures put in place are effective and produce the expected results. “We need to fully understand what is happening now if we want to paint a fair picture of the evolution of agricultural practices in Quebec,” she added.
Professor Langlois is leading the study in collaboration with Professor Isabelle Lavoie from INRS, Annie-Ève Gagnon and Jacynthe Masse from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as well as several other scientists and partners. The project, called AgriSolEau, is being carried out as part of the Quebec Sustainable Agriculture Research Network (RQRAD).
From the field to the laboratory
The team members will visit partner producers in transition to organic farming. In the field, they will study the diversity of ecosystems and the accumulation of pesticides in the soil and organisms. They will also visit agricultural streams to sample algae and microscopic invertebrates. These samples will be used to assess the health of the environment and to measure the accumulation of pesticides in aquatic organisms.
Experiments will continue in the lab and in mesocosms, outdoor experimental systems that simulate a natural environment. Scientists will test how organisms respond to various pesticide reduction scenarios. They will monitor a series of biological indicators to measure how pesticides, alone or in mixtures, and their reduced use affect terrestrial and aquatic organisms.
“These controlled experiments will allow us to better understand the toxicity of pesticides and their mixtures on organisms and to estimate their response to a change in agricultural practices,” explains Isabelle Lavoie. “It will also help us target the pesticides or mixtures of greatest concern so that better decisions can be made about their use.”
Informed management of the use of pesticides
The knowledge gained from the project will have a significant impact on several fronts. It can be used to help agronomists and farmers to better manage their fields by guiding them in the choice of pesticides, the composition of mixtures or the quantity to use. This information will also be used to develop criteria for the conservation of natural environments and the organisms that compose them. The results of this project will also promote better environmental monitoring using toxicity tests complementary to what is currently available, in order to better assess the effects of pesticides on the environment.
This large-scale project promotes collaboration and the exchange of knowledge between scientists and agricultural stakeholders. Research activities will focus on the acquisition of knowledge and its application to user environments.
INRS is a university dedicated exclusively to research and graduate training. Since its creation in 1969, INRS has played an active role in the economic, social and cultural development of Quebec and ranks first for the intensity of research in Quebec. INRS is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centers in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval and Varennes, specializing in strategic sectors: Water Earth Environment, Energy Materials Telecommunications, Urbanization Culture Society and Armand-Frappier Health Biotechnology. The INRS community includes more than 1,500 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members and staff.
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