Microplastics are present in aquatic ecosystems the world over and may influence the feeding, growth, reproduction, and survival of freshwater and marine biota; however, the extent and magnitude of potential effects of microplastics on aquatic organisms is poorly understood. In the current study, we conducted a meta-analysis of published literature to examine impacts of exposure to microplastics on consumption (and feeding), growth, reproduction, and survival of fish and aquatic invertebrates. While we did observe within-taxa negative effects for all four categories of responses, many of the effects summarized in our study were neutral, indicating that the effects of exposure to microplastics are highly variable across taxa. The most consistent effect was a reduction in consumption of natural prey when microplastics were present. For some taxa, negative effects on growth, reproduction and even survival were also evident. Organisms that serve as prey to larger predators, e.g., zooplankton, may be particularly susceptible to negative impacts of exposure to microplastic pollution, with potential for ramifications throughout the food web. Future work should focus on whether microplastics may be affecting aquatic organisms more subtly, e.g., by influencing exposure to contaminants and pathogens, or by acting at a molecular level.
Carolyn J. Foley, Zachary S. Feiner, Timothy D. Malinich, Tomas O. Höök, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 631–632, 1 August 2018, Pages 550–559