The biogeography of the Plastisphere: implications for policy

Microplastics (particles less than 5 mm) numerically dominate marine debris and occur from coastal waters to mid-ocean gyres, where surface circulation concentrates them. Given the prevalence of plastic marine debris (PMD) and the rise in plastic production, the impacts of plastic on marine ecosystems will likely increase. Microscopic life (the “Plastisphere”) thrives on these tiny floating “islands” of debris and can be transported long distances. Using next-generation DNA sequencing, we characterized bacterial communities from water and plastic samples from the North Pacific and North Atlantic subtropical gyres to determine whether the composition of different Plastisphere communities reflects their biogeographic origins. We found that these communities differed between ocean basins – and to a lesser extent between polymer types – and displayed latitudinal gradients in species richness. Our research reveals some of the impacts of microplastics on marine biodiversity, demonstrates that the effects and fate of PMD may vary considerably in different parts of the global ocean, and suggests that PMD mitigation will require regional management efforts.

Linda A Amaral-Zettler, Erik R Zettler, Beth Slikas, Gregory D Boyd, Donald W Melvin, Clare E Morrall, Giora Proskurowski and Tracy J Mincer, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 13: 541–546

The article

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