JSU Student Symposium 2020
Investigating the Effects of Pharmaceuticals on Decomposition Rates in Aquatic Environments



Faculty Mentor

Sarah Wofford, Biology


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Houston Cole Library, 11th Floor | 1:45-1:55 p.m.


Decomposition is an important process for nutrient cycling and the environment. Aquatic decomposition is influenced by many factors, especially anthropogenic inputs. One factor is pharmaceutical waste excreted into water ways. Pharmaceutical waste affects the behaviors of invertebrates which are important drivers of leaf litter decomposition in streams. Neal and Moore (2016) found that behavior of shredders was significantly impacted by ibuprofen, an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), which is commonly used for minor ailments such as fever, headaches, pain, and cramps. We hypothesized that leaf litter bags that contain a pharmaceutical will have lower invertebrate biodiversity and decreased decomposition rates. We filled eight porous bags with 10 grams of sweetgum leaves. Four bags were for the experimental group (treated with pharmaceutical) and four bags were the control group. The experimental bags were soaked in 800 milligrams of ibuprofen dissolved in 5 liters of water filled for 30 minutes before being placed in a local stream. The bags were submerged in the stream for 28 days. After this time frame, we collected the leaf bags and we processed the leaf matter by separating leaves from sediment by thoroughly rinsing the leaves with water. We also retrieved several varieties of macroinvertebrates from our leaf bags and separated them accordingly. We lost one treatment bag during the deployment period due to adverse environmental conditions. After retrieval, the leaves were placed into pre-weighed paper bags and set in a drying oven for one week. After drying, the bags were weighed in order to determine the leaf mass lost over the 28-day period. We calculated the decomposition rate by calculating the difference in the original leaf mass of the bags before deployment and their mass after their retrieval. A two tailed t-test was conducted and provided the p-value of the two tailed tests as 0.64. The p-value signified that there was no significant difference between the control and treatment decomposition rates because it was well above the standard p-value of .05. The t stat from the test was 0.05. Although, there was no significant impact on the rate of decomposition for our study, it is suspected that a longer time period, or perhaps a different pharmaceutical, would have a greater impact on decomposition.


student presentations, student papers, ecology


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Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Presentation Information

Winter, A., Clark, K. and Hill, Z.. (2020, 13 February). Investigating the effects of pharmaceuticals on decomposition rates in aquatic environments. Paper presented at the 2020 JSU Student Symposium, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, AL.

Investigating the Effects of Pharmaceuticals on Decomposition Rates in Aquatic Environments