The current knowledge concerning effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on aquatic organisms is very limited. A full life-cycle (< or =26 days exposure) ecotoxicity test with the particle-feeding copepod Nitocra spinipes was therefore used to study effects of BDE-47, -99 and -100 on larval development rate (LDR) and population growth rate (r(m)). LDR significantly decreased in copepods exposed for 6 days to nominal concentrations > or =0.013 mg/l BDE-47 and > or =0.03 mg/l BDE-99. Large concentration ratios (< or =338) between adult acute and juvenile subchronic endpoints were observed. Exposure over the full life cycle (< or =26 days) showed that r(m) in general was a less sensitive endpoint than LDR. Still, the r(m) in copepods exposed to 0.04 mg/l BDE-47 was significantly reduced compared to the controls (***P<0.001). Partitioning experiments with 14C-BDE-47 and 14C-BDE-99 in the test system showed that the major fractions (approximately 50-80%) were associated to particulate material. Our findings indicate that development and reproduction in N. spinipes are sensitive to the tested PBDEs and that ingestion of particle-adsorbed PBDEs most likely is the predominant route of exposure in N. spinipes. However, to further improve the usefulness of laboratory effect levels of PBDEs and other lipophilic substances for environmental risk assessment, it is important to develop ecotoxicological tools, which can evaluate and rate the toxic contribution from different matrices, such as suspended particles, sediment, food, water etc.