Plastic pollution is recognised as an emerging threat to aquatic ecosystems, with microplastics now the most abundant type of marine debris. Health effects caused by microplastics have been demonstrated at the species level, but impacts on ecological communities remain unknown. In this study, impacts of microplastics on the health and biological functioning of European flat oysters (Ostrea edulis) and on the structure of associated macrofaunal assemblages were assessed in an outdoor mesocosm experiment using intact sediment cores. Biodegradable and conventional microplastics were added at low (0.8 μg L−1) and high (80 μg L−1) doses in the water column repeatedly for 60 days. Effects on the oysters were minimal, but benthic assemblage structures differed and species richness and the total number of organisms were ∼1.2 and 1.5 times greater in control mesocosms than in those exposed to high doses of microplastics. Notably, abundances of juvenile Littorina sp. (periwinkles) and Idotea balthica (an isopod) were ∼2 and 8 times greater in controls than in mesocosms with the high dose of either type of microplastic. In addition, the biomass of Scrobicularia plana (peppery furrow shell clam) was ∼1.5 times greater in controls than in mesocosms with the high dose of microplastics. This work indicates that repeated exposure to high concentrations of microplastics could alter assemblages in an important marine habitat by reducing the abundance of benthic fauna.
Dannielle Senga Green, Environmental Pollution, Volume 216, Pages 95–103, September 2016