There is growing scientific, regulatory and public concern over anthropogenic input of radionuclides to the aquatic environment, especially given the issues surrounding existing nuclear waste, future energy demand and past or potential nuclear accidents. A change in the approach to how we protect the environment from ionizing radiation has also underlined the importance of assessing its impact on nonhuman biota. This review presents a thorough and critical examination of the available information on the effects of ionizing radiation on aquatic invertebrates, which constitute approximately 90% of extant life on the planet and play vital roles in ecosystem functioning. The aim of the review was to assess the progress made so far, addressing any concerns and identifying the knowledge gaps in the field. The critical analysis of the available information included determining yearly publications in the field, qualities of radiation used, group(s) of animals studied, and levels of biological organization at which effects were examined. The overwhelming conclusion from analysis of the available information is that more data are needed in almost every area. However, in light of the current priorities in human and environmental health, and considering regulatory developments, the following are areas of particular interest for future research on the effects of ionizing radiation on nonhuman biota in general and aquatic invertebrates in particular: (1) studies that use end points across multiple levels of biological organization, including an ecosystem level approach where appropriate, (2) multiple species studies that produce comparable data across phylogenetic groups, and (3) determination of the modifying (i.e. antagonistic, additive or synergistic) effects of biotic and abiotic factors on the impact of ionizing radiation. It is essential that all of these issues are examined in the context of well-defined radiation exposure and total doses received and consider the life stages and life span of the species studied. The review also provides future directions for studies in this stimulating area of research to protect human and environmental health.

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