Science of The Total Environment, Volume 718

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Spatial distribution of agricultural pesticide use and predicted wetland exposure in the Canadian Prairie Pothole Region
Egina Malaj | Karsten Liber | Christy A. Morrissey

Agricultural pest control products are a major cause of degradation of water quality and biodiversity loss worldwide. In the Canadian Prairie Pothole Region, the landscape is characterized by millions of ecologically important wetlands, but also large farm sizes and high agrochemical use. Despite the region's agricultural intensity, the spatial extent of pesticide use and likelihood of pesticides contaminating surface water has been poorly studied. Here, we estimated the pesticide use patterns for three main groups (herbicides, fungicides and insecticides) using the most recent (2015) pesticide use survey data and digital crop maps. Furthermore, we developed a Wetland Pesticide Occurrence Index (WPOI; 1 km2 resolution), to robustly estimate potential wetland exposure using spatially explicit data on pesticide use density, wetland density, precipitation and pesticide-specific physicochemical properties. In total, 39,236 metric tonnes of pesticides consisting of 94 active ingredients were applied to the Prairies in 2015. Herbicides had the highest density of use (24-183 kg/km2), followed by fungicides (0.4-23.8 kg/km2) and insecticides (0.4-3.6 kg/km2). Pesticide use differed by province; however, the major pesticides applied (e.g., glyphosate, prothioconazole, and thiamethoxam) were consistent across the region and were largely associated with wheat and canola crops. Although insecticides and fungicides had lower mass applied than herbicides, they had slightly higher overall WPOI scores. The predicted pesticide occurrence for insecticides and fungicides in wetlands was higher in the wetter central and eastern part of the Prairie region (WPOI = 0.6-1) compared to the drier western and southwestern part (WPOI = 0.1-0.6), suggesting that wetlands in much of Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba may be more vulnerable to higher and frequent contamination. Identifying crops, chemicals and landscapes with the greatest likelihood of pesticide contamination to wetlands will help prioritize future environmental monitoring programs and aid in assessing the ecological risk of specific pest control products in Canada's most agriculturally intensive region.