Experimental evaluation of seaweeds as vector for microplastics into marine food webs

Ingestion of microplastics has been shown for a great variety of marine organisms. However, benthic marine meso-herbivores such as the common periwinkle Littorina littorea have been largely disregarded in studies about the effects of microplastics on the marine biota, probably because the pathway for microplastics to this functional group of organisms was not obvious. In laboratory experiments we showed that the seaweed Fucus vesiculosus retains suspended microplastics on its surface. The numbers of microplastics that adhered to the algae correlated with the concentrations of suspended particles in the water. In choice feeding assays L. littorea did not distinguish between algae with adherent microplastics and clean algae without microplastics indicating that the snails do not recognize solid non-food particles in the sub-millimeter size range as deleterious. In periwinkles that were feeding on contaminated algae, microplastics were found in the stomach and in the gut. However, no microplastics were found in the midgut gland, which is the principle digestive organ of gastropods. Microplastics in the fecal pellets of the periwinkles indicate that the particles do not accumulate rapidly inside the animals but are mostly released with the feces. Our results provide the first evidence that seaweeds may represent an efficient pathway for microplastics from the water to marine benthic herbivores.

Lars Gutow, Antonia Eckerlebe, Luis Gimenez, and Reinhard Saborowski, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2016, 50 (2), pp 915–923

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