RRRD058 A novel biological method of monitoring herbicides


Project Leader

Ben Kefford
University of Technology Sydney





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Project Overview

This project will identify species of diatoms that are at risk from herbicides and develop a new SPEAR (SPEciesAt Risk) index to detect herbicide toxicity. It will investigate the modification of existing macroinvertebrate based SPEAR so that it can operate in the reef catchments to detect insecticide toxicity.

This project will monitor pesticides, macroinvertebrates and diatoms in rivers draining onto the reef. We will determine if the measured herbicides are correlated with the diatom based SPEAR and the measured insecticides are correlated with the macroinvertebrate SPEAR.

Project Deliverables

  • A method of detecting toxicity to benthic (attached) diatom from herbicides in rivers draining onto the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland.
  • Modification of an existing method of detecting toxicity stream macroinvertebrates from pesticides in rivers draining onto the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Testing of the accuracy of these methods in detecting herbicide and pesticide toxicity, respectively.

PROGRESS UPDATES for this project are summarised here

Study Areas

River catchments draining onto the Great Barrier Reef.

Associated Reef Rescue R&D Research

  • RRRD037 & RRRD038 Pesticide dynamics in the Great Barrier Reef catchment and lagoon: management practices (grazing, bananas and grain crops) and risk assessments-JCU (Brodie)

Related External Research

DSITIA (Department of Science Innovation, Technology Innovation and the Arts)
  • Existing stream/river biomonitoring
Other projects
  • Potential ARC Linkage project.

Related work in Europe conducted in the Department System Ecotoxicology, UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, in Leipzig, Germany (who invented the SPEAR indexes).

Publications from this project

The Research Outcomes Reort for RRRD058 is available for download from the Final Report page. This report should be cited as

Kefford, B.J., Wood, R.J., Mitrovic, S. and von der Ohe, P. (2014) Biomonitoring effects of pesticides in rivers draining on to the Great Barrier Reef. Final report for project number RRRD058: A novel biological method of monitoring herbicides. Report to the Reef Rescue Water Quality Research & Development Program. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns (109pp.).ISBN: 978-1-925088-18-2

The project results have been summarised at several Reef Rescue R&D forums, visit the Events page


Wood, R. J., Mitrovic, S. M., & Kefford, B. J. (2014). Determining the relative sensitivity of benthic diatoms to atrazine using rapid toxicity testing: A novel method. Science of The Total Environment, 485, 421-427.

Conference presentation: Herron et al. (2012). A novel biological method for monitoring herbicides. At the 2012 SETAC Australasian in Brisbane 4 July-6 July 2012.