Microscopic plastic debris (microplastics, <5mm in diameter) is ubiquitous in the marine environment. Previous work has shown that microplastics may be ingested and inhaled by the shore crab Carcinus maenas although the biological consequences are unknown. Here, we show that acute aqueous exposure to polystyrene microspheres (8µm) with different surface coatings had significant but transient effects on branchial function. Microspheres inhaled into the gill chamber had a small but significant dose dependent effect on oxygen consumption after 1 hour of exposure, returning to normal levels after 16 h. Ion exchange was also affected, with a small but significant decrease in hemolymph sodium ions and an increase in calcium ions after 24 h post exposure. To further asses the effects on osmoregulation, crabs were challenged with reduced salinity after microplastic exposure. Neither microspheres nor natural sediments altered the crab’s response to osmotic stress, regardless of plastic concentration added. Carboxylated (COOH) and aminated (NH2) polystyrene microspheres were distributed differently across the gill surface, although neither had a significant adverse impact on gill function. These results illustrate the extent of the physiological effects of microplastics, compared to the physiological resilience of shore crabs in maintaining osmoregulatory and respiratory function after acute exposure to both anthropogenic plastics and natural particles.
Andrew James Russell Watts, Mauricio A Urbina, Rhys M Goodhead, Julian Moger, Ceri Lewis, and Tamara S. Galloway, Environ. Sci. Technol., 50 (10), pp 5364–5369, 2016