Urbanization is a major influence on microplastic ingestion by sunfish in the Brazos River Basin, Central Texas, USA

Microplastics, degraded and weathered polymer-based particles, and manufactured products ranging between 50 and 5000 μm in size, are found within marine, freshwater, and estuarine environments. While numerous peer-reviewed papers have quantified the ingestion of microplastics by marine vertebrates, relatively few studies have focused on microplastic ingestion by freshwater organisms. This study documents microplastic and manufactured fiber ingestion by bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) and longear (Lepomis megalotis) sunfish (Centrarchidae) from the Brazos River Basin, between Lake Whitney and Marlin, Texas, USA. Fourteen sample sites were studied and categorized into urban, downstream, and upstream areas. A total of 436 sunfish were collected, and 196 (45%) stomachs contained microplastics. Four percent (4%) of items sampled were debris on the macro size scale (i.e. >5 mm) and consisted of masses of plastic, metal, Styrofoam, or fishing material, while 96% of items sampled were in the form of microplastic threads. Fish length was statistically correlated to the number of microplastics detected (p = 0.019). Fish collected from urban sites displayed the highest mean number of microplastics ingested, followed by downstream and upstream sites. Microplastics were associated with the ingestion of other debris items (e.g. sand and wood) and correlated to the ingestion of fish eggs, earthworms, and mollusks, suggesting that sunfish incidentally ingest microplastics during their normal feeding methods. The high frequency of microplastic ingestion suggest that further research is needed to determine the residence time of microplastics within the stomach and gut, potential for food web transfer, and adverse effects on wildlife and ecosystemic health.

Colleen A. Peters, Susan P. Bratton, Environmental Pollution, Volume 210, Pages 380–387, March 2016

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