Influence of habitats and physicochemical factors on trophic transfer processes of antibiotics in a freshwater ecosystem: Application of stable isotopes and human health risks

Abdul Qadeer, Zeeshan Ajmal, Liu Hanxia, Dai Ran, Tadiyose Girma Bekele, Kelly Kirsten, Sisi Liu, Mengyang Liu, Huang Zhifeng, Dong Jing, Shuhang Wang, Jiang Xia, Zhao Xingru

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Habitats of species and physicochemical factors are of great importance in determining the trophic transfer of contaminants in freshwater ecosystems. There is little information on how multiple physicochemical factors and habitats influence the trophic transfer of antibiotics in freshwater food webs. This study investigated the concentrations of 7 sulfonamides (SAs), 4 fluoroquinolones (FQs), 4 tetracyclines (TCs) and 2 macrolides (MLs) in the Lake Dianshan food web. Stable isotope analysis (SIA), and mathematical models were used to assign trophic levels and distinguish between the benthic food web (BFW) and pelagic food web (PFW). Values of stable nitrogen isotope (δ 15N‰) and stable carbon isotope (δ 13C‰) ranged from 10.2 ± 0.11 to 19.72 ± 0.05 and −33.67 ± 0.18 to −20.79 ± 0.50, respectively. Total concentrations of antibiotics ranged from 36.63 ± 12.73 ng/g dry weight (dw) to 105.85 ± 12.95 ng/g dw for all species. The relative abundance of antibiotics was in the following order: ∑FQs (36.49 %) > ∑SAs (26.70 %), >∑MLs (12.63 %) for all biotas. Trophic magnification factor (TMFs) values for individual antibiotics ranged from 0.10 to 1.20 and 0.31 to 1.82 for PFW and BFW, respectively. Three classes of antibiotics ∑FQs (p < 0.05), ∑TCs (p < 0.05), and ∑MLs (p < 0.05) showed significant trophic dilution in PFW, opposite to non-significant trophic dilution in BFW. The influence of various physicochemical factors was not strong over trophic transfer (e.g., octanol-water partition coefficient-LogK ow (r = −0.05 in PFW, r = −0.14 in BFW) and distribution coefficient-LogD (r = 0.06 in PWF, r = −0.28 in BFW)) except for aqueous solubility (LogS). Results indicated a significantly higher trophic dilution of antibiotics in the PFW than in the BFW. Among the studied six physicochemical factors, only LogS significantly influences (p < 0.05) the trophic transfer of antibiotics in the freshwater food web. Health risk assessments indicated that currently, there were no serious risks present for urban and rural populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160765
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date10 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


This research was funded by a special program for the Basic Work of Science and Technology ( 2015FY110900-6 ). Dr. AQ is thankful for the support and funding provided by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences , Beijing. KLK is supported by DAAD within the framework of the Climate Research for Alumni and Postdocs in Africa (climapAfrica) program (Reference no. 57576494 ) with funds of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences (Grant Ref#: COE2021NGP-KD ). Our team is also thankful to Miss Lisa (He-Mingwei), boat man & team for help during the sample collection and sample handling. Publisher Copyright: © 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • Aquatic food webs
  • Emerging contaminants
  • Fluoroquinolones (FQs)
  • Sulfonamides (SAs)
  • Tetracyclines (TCs)
  • Trophic dilution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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