Physical immobility as a sensitive indicator of hydraulic fracturing fluid toxicity towards Daphnia magna

Tamzin A. Blewett, Perrine L.M. Delompré, Chris N. Glover, Greg G. Goss

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The process of extracting hydrocarbon resources by hydraulic fracturing is an increasingly utilised technique worldwide, resulting in an effluent called flowback and produced water (FPW). This effluent is a complex mixture of salts, metals and organic compounds, and has been shown to be highly toxic to aquatic biota, an effect attributed mainly to its salt and organic components. However, in the current study we show that the water flea, Daphnia magna, is physically impaired by, and rendered immobile at the surface of, test waters containing FPW. This effect occurs at concentrations significantly lower than the reported median lethal concentration for the same test FPW, and suggests that physical immobility is a more sensitive ecological indicator of adverse environmental effects associated with FPW exposure. We showed that this effect could be mediated by the dual action of waterborne surfactants, which decrease surface tension, and floating hydrocarbons, which adhere to daphnids that break through the water surface and prevent resubmergence. While mortality does not occur in physically impaired daphnids within the prescribed 48 h, animals are unable to return to the water column, and thus cannot feed. Stranding at the water surface will also impair the capacity of the animals to shed the carapace, thus impeding reproduction. These results suggest that assessment of acute toxicity of FPW may need to be determined differently from traditional effluent toxicity assessments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-643
Number of pages5
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep. 2018


  • Daphnia magna
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Physical immobility


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