Plastics, despite their great benefits, have become a ubiquitous environmental pollutant, with microplastic particles having come into focus most recently. Microplastic effects have been intensely studied in aquatic, especially marine systems; however, there is lack of studies focusing on effects on soil and its biota. A basic question is if and how surface-deposited microplastic particles are transported into the soil. We here wished to test if soil microarthropods, using Collembola, can transport these particles over distances of centimeters within days in a highly controlled experimental set-up. We conducted a fully factorial experiment with two collembolan species of differing body size, Folsomia candida and Proisotoma minuta, in combination with urea-formaldehyde particles of two different particle sizes. We observed significant differences between the species concerning the distance the particles were transported. F. candida was able to transport larger particles further and faster than P. minuta. Using video, we observed F. candida interacting with urea-formaldehyde particles and polyethylene terephthalate fibers, showing translocation of both material types. Our data clearly show that microplastic particles can be moved and distributed by soil microarthropods. Although we did not observe feeding, it is possible that microarthropods contribute to the accumulation of microplastics in the soil food web.
Stefanie Maaß, Daniel Daphi, Anika Lehmann, Matthias C. Rillig, Environmental Pollution, Volume 225, June 2017, Pages 456–459