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Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology

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Science  03 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1213-1216
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8828

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Microplastic's triple threat

The billions of tons of plastics that we release into the environment for the most part do not biodegrade. But they do degrade, breaking into ever smaller particles that end up in the oceans. Lönnstedt et al. show that the impacts of these microplastics are multifold (see the Perspective by Rochman). Eurasian perch larvae exposed to microplastics were less active, less responsive to predator cues, more likely to be eaten, and less likely to thrive—preferring to eat plastic rather than their natural prey.

Science, this issue p. 1213; see also p. 1172

Abstract

The widespread occurrence and accumulation of plastic waste in the environment have become a growing global concern over the past decade. Although some marine organisms have been shown to ingest plastic, few studies have investigated the ecological effects of plastic waste on animals. Here we show that exposure to environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic polystyrene particles (90 micrometers) inhibits hatching, decreases growth rates, and alters feeding preferences and innate behaviors of European perch (Perca fluviatilis) larvae. Furthermore, individuals exposed to microplastics do not respond to olfactory threat cues, which greatly increases predator-induced mortality rates. Our results demonstrate that microplastic particles operate both chemically and physically on larval fish performance and development.

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