Plastic debris is ingested by hundreds of species of organisms, from zooplankton to baleen whales, but how such a diversity of consumers can mistake plastic for their natural prey is largely unknown. The sensory mechanisms underlying plastic detection and consumption have rarely been examined within the context of sensory signals driving marine food web dynamics. We demonstrate experimentally that marine seasoned microplastics produce a dimethyl sulfide (DMS) signature that is also a keystone odorant for natural trophic interactions. We further demonstrate a positive relationship between DMS responsiveness and plastic ingestion frequency using procellariiform seabirds as a model taxonomic group. Together, these results suggest that plastic debris emits the scent of a marine infochemical, creating an olfactory trap for susceptible marine wildlife.
Matthew S. Savoca, Martha E. Wohlfeil, Susan E. Ebeler, Gabrielle A. Nevitt, Science Advances, 09 Nov 2016: Vol. 2, no. 11, e1600395