Relationship of diversity and habitat area in North Pacific plastic-associated rafting communities

Plastic and other anthropogenic debris (e.g., rubber, tar) augment natural floating substrates (e.g., algal rafts, pumice) in the open ocean, allowing “islands” of substrate-associated organisms to persist in an otherwise unsuitable habitat. We examined a total of 242 debris objects collected in the eastern Pacific in 2009 and 2011 (32–39°N, 130–142°W) and the western Pacific in 2012 (19–41°N, 143–156°E). Here, we ask: (a) What taxa are associated with plastic rafts in the North Pacific? and (b) Does the number of taxa associated with plastic debris vary with the size of the debris “island?” We documented 95 rafting taxa from 11 phyla. We identified several potentially invasive plastic-associated rafting taxa, including the coral pathogen Halofolliculina spp. In concordance with classic species–area curves, the number of rafting taxa was positively correlated with the size of the raft. Our findings suggest that diversity patterns on plastic debris are compatible with the concept of island biogeography.

Miriam C. Goldstein, Henry S. Carson, Marcus Eriksen, Marine Biology, April 2014

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