Long-term microplastic retention causes reduced body condition in the langoustine, Nephrops norvegicus

Microplastic represents a rising proportion of marine litter and is widely distributed throughout a range of marine habitats. Correspondingly, the number of reports of species containing microplastics increases annually. Nephrops norvegicus in the Firth of Clyde have previously been shown to retain large aggregations of microplastic fibres. The potential for N. norvegicus to retain plastic over an extended time period increases the likelihood of any associated negative impacts to the individual. This study represents the longest observation of the impacts of microplastic retention in invertebrates. We exposed N. norvegicus to plastic over eight months to determine the impacts of extended exposure. Over this period we compared the feeding rate, body mass, and nutritional state of plastic-fed N. norvegicus to that of fed and starved control groups. Following the experimental period, the plastic-fed langoustine contained microplastic aggregations comparable to those of small individuals from the Clyde Sea Area. Comparisons between fed, unfed and plastic-fed individuals indicated a reduction in feeding rate, body mass, and metabolic rate as well as catabolism of stored lipids in plastic contaminated animals. We conclude that N. norvegicus exposed to high levels of environmental microplastic pollution may experience reduced nutrient availability. This can result in reduced population stability and may affect the viability of local fisheries.

Natalie A.C. Welden, Phillip R. Cowie, Environmental Pollution, Volume 218, November 2016, Pages 895–900

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