Effects of microplastics on microalgae populations: A critical review

Microplastics are persistent contaminants accumulating in the environment. Aquatic ecosystems have been studied worldwide, revealing ubiquitous contamination with microplastics. Microalgae, one of the most important primary producers in aquatic ecosystems, could suffer from microplastic contamination, leading to larger impacts on aquatic food webs. Nonetheless, little is known about the toxic effects of microplastics on microalgae populations. Thus, the objective of this review was to identify these effects and the impacts of microplastics on microalgae populations based on currently available literature, also identifying knowledge gaps. Even though microplastics seem to have limited effects on parameters such as growth, chlorophyll content, photosynthesis activity and reactive oxygen species (ROS), current environmental concentrations are not expected to induce toxicity. Even so, microplastics could disrupt population regulation mechanisms, by reducing the availability or absorption of nutrients (bottom-up) or reducing the population of predator species (top-down). Microplastics’ properties can also influence the effects on microalgae, with smaller sizes and positive surface charges having higher toxicity. Therefore, more research is needed to better understand the effects of microplastics on microalgae, such as adaptation strategies, effects on population dynamics and microplastics properties influencing toxicity.

Correia Prata J., da Costa J. P., Lopes I. and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volume 665, 15 May 2019, Pages 400-405

The article


Global ecological, social and economic impacts of marine plastic

This research takes a holistic approach to considering the consequences of marine plastic pollution. A semi-systematic literature review of 1191 data points provides the basis to determine the global ecological, social and economic impacts. An ecosystem impact analysis demonstrates that there is global evidence of impact with medium to high frequency on all subjects, with a medium to high degree of irreversibility. A novel translation of these ecological impacts into ecosystem service impacts provides evidence that all ecosystem services are impacted to some extent by the presence of marine plastic, with a reduction in provision predicted for all except one. This reduction in ecosystem service provision is evidenced to have implications for human health and wellbeing, linked particularly to fisheries, heritage and charismatic species, and recreation.

Beaumont N., Aanesen M., Austen M. C. and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 142, May 2019, Pages 189-195

The article

Combined effect of polystyrene plastics and triphenyltin chloride on the green algae Chlorella pyrenoidosa

The combined effect of polystyrene (PS) particles and triphenyltin chloride (TPTCl) to the green algae Chlorella pyrenoidosa was studied. The 96 h IC50 of TPTCl to the green algae C. pyrenoidosa was 30.64 μg/L. The toxicity of PS particles to C. pyrenoidosa was size-dependent, with the 96 h IC50 at 9.10 mg/L for 0.55 μm PS but no toxicity observed for 5.0 μm PS. The exposure to 0.55 μm PS led to damage on structure of algal cells, which could in turn cause inhibition on photosynthesis and population growth of the green algae. TPTCl concentrations in test medium were lowered by 15–19% at presence of 0.55 μm PS particles, indicating a reduced bioavailability of TPTCl. In spite of this reduced bioavailability, the presence of PS increased the toxicity of TPTCl, which might be attributed to facilitated uptake of TPTCl by the green algae after the damage of cell structure. The overall results of the present study provided important information on the effect of PS on the bioavailability and toxicity of TPTCl to phytoplankton species.

Yi, X., Chi, T., Li, Z. et al. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2019)

The article

Ecotoxicological effects of polystyrene microbeads in a battery of marine organisms belonging to different trophic levels

The aim of this study was to detect ecotoxicological effects of 0.1 μm polystyrene microbeads in marine organisms belonging to different trophic levels. MP build up, lethal and sub-lethal responses were investigated in the bacterium Vibrio anguillarum (culturability), in the green microalga Dunaliella tertiolecta (growth inhibition), in the rotifer Brachionus plicatilis (mortality and swimming speed alteration) and in the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus (immobility and swimming speed alteration) exposed to a wide range of microplastic (MP) concentrations (from 0.001 to 10 mg L−1). Survival was not affected in all organisms up to 10 mg L−1, while algal growth inhibition, rotifer and sea urchin larvae swimming behaviour alterations were observed after exposure to MPs. Ingestion was only observed in rotifers and it was directly correlated with sub-lethal effects.

C. Gambardella, S. Morgana, M. Bramini and al., Marine Environmental Research, Volume 141, October 2018, Pages 313-321

The article

Distribution of Microplastics and Nanoplastics in Aquatic Ecosystems and Their Impacts on Aquatic Organisms, with Emphasis on Microalgae

Plastics, with their many useful physical and chemical properties, are widely used in various industries and activities of daily living. Yet, the insidious effects of plastics, particularly long-term effects on aquatic organisms, are not properly understood. Plastics have been shown to degrade to micro- and nanosize particles known as microplastics and nanoplastics, respectively. These minute particles have been shown to cause various adverse effects on aquatic organisms, ranging from growth inhibition, developmental delay and altered feeding behaviour in aquatic animals to decrease of photosynthetic efficiency and induction of oxidative stress in microalgae. This review paper covers the distribution of microplastics and nanoplastics in aquatic ecosystems, focusing on their effects on microalgae as well as co-toxicity of microplastics and nanoplastics with other pollutants. Besides that, this review paper also discusses future research directions which could be taken to gain a better understanding of the impacts of microplastics and nanoplastics on aquatic ecosystems.

Jun-Kit Wan, Wan-Loy Chu, Yih-Yih Kok, Choy-Sin Lee, Chapter, Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series, Springer

The chapter

Sorption of fluorescent polystyrene microplastic particles to edible seaweed Fucus vesiculosus

Increased global demands for food have raised interest for seaweed as a healthy and sustainable food source. At the same time, the large amounts of microplastic in the oceans have raised concern in relation to pollution of seafood including sea vegetables. The aim of this study was to examine sorption of fluorescent polystyrene (PS) microplastic particles to edible macroalga (seaweed) Fucus vesiculosus, and to investigate to what extent adsorbed PS particles could be washed off, using an industrial relevant method. PS microplastic particles (diameter of 20 μm) were used in a concentration of 2.65 mg L−1 (corresponding to 597 particles per mL) in filtrated seawater (50 mL) to treat F. vesiculosus distal tips in blue cap flasks (100 mL) placed in a rotary box for 2 h. Results showed sorption of PS microplastic particles to F. vesiculosus analysed by microscopy and a significant reduction of 94.5% by washing. These results were based on high microplastic concentrations, not comparable to natural conditions/concentrations. Nonetheless, this study provides methodological and mechanistic insights into procedures for investigating the sorption of microplastics to seaweed, for which there is currently no established standardised method.

Kasper Bjerrum Sundbæk, Ida Due Würtzner Koch, Clara Greve Villaro, Niclas Spangegaard Rasmussen, Susan Løvstad Holdt, Nanna B. Hartmann, 6th Congress of the International Society for Applied Phycology, Journal of Applied Phycology

The article

Microplastic ingestion by Daphnia magna and its enhancement on algal growth

The rapid increase in plastic use over the last few decades has resulted in plastic pollution in freshwater and marine ecosystems. However, more attention has been paid to plastic pollution in marine ecosystems than to freshwater ecosystems. This research determined microplastic ingestion by Daphnia magna and the potential effect of microplastics on the organism’s survival and reproduction. The study also examined the potential of microplastics to enhance algal growth in support of understanding effects of microplastic ingestion on the organism. When exposed to 25, 50, and 100 mg/L fluorescent green polyethylene microbeads at size of 63–75 μm, D. magna ingested significant amount of plastic microbeads. The number of ingested beads increased with increasing particle concentration and exposure time. However, no significant effect on survival and reproduction was observed although the gut of D. magna was filled with plastic microbeads. In the algal experiment, Raphidocelis subcapitata grew more in the exposure media with the present of plastic microbeads than without plastic microbeads. This result suggests that plastic microbeads could serve as substrates for R. subcapitata to grow. Raphidocelis subcapitata then could be transferred to the organism’s gut and provided energy for survival and reproduction. Results of the present study add to the literature of microplastic ingestion by aquatic organisms. Caution should be taken when interpreting hazards of microplastics based on ingestion, such as the measurement unit and the presence of algae in the environment.

P. M. Canniff, T. C. Hoang, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 633, 15 August 2018, Pages 500–507

The article