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

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Capture, swallowing, and egestion of microplastics by a planktivorous juvenile fish

Microplastics (<5 mm) have been found in many fish species, from most marine environments. However, the mechanisms underlying microplastic ingestion by fish are still unclear, although they are important to determine the pathway of microplastics along marine food webs. Here we conducted experiments in the laboratory to examine microplastic ingestion (capture and swallowing) and egestion by juveniles of the planktivorous palm ruff, Seriolella violacea (Centrolophidae). As expected, fish captured preferentially black microplastics, similar to food pellets, whereas microplastics of other colours (blue, translucent, and yellow) were mostly co-captured when floating close to food pellets. Microplastics captured without food were almost always spit out, and were only swallowed when they were mixed with food in the fish’s mouth. Food probably produced a ‘gustatory trap’ that impeded the fish to discriminate and reject the microplastics. Most fish (93% of total) egested all the microplastics after 7 days, on average, and 49 days at most, substantially longer than food pellets (<2 days). No acute detrimental effects of microplastics on fish were observable, but potential sublethal effects of microplastics on the fish physiological and behavioural responses still need to be tested. This study highlights that visually-oriented planktivorous fish, many species of which are of commercial value and ecological importance within marine food webs, are susceptible to ingest microplastics resembling or floating close to their planktonic prey.

N. C. Ory, C. Gallardo, M. Lenz, M. Thiel, Environmental Pollution, Volume 240, September 2018, Pages 566-573

The article

The effects of trophic transfer and environmental factors on microplastic uptake by plaice, Pleuronectes plastessa, and spider crab, Maja squinado

Microplastic pollution is apparent throughout the marine environment from deep ocean sediments to coastal habitats. Most of this is believed to originate on land, although marine activities, such as fishing and shipping, also contribute to the release and redistribution of microplastic. The relative importance of these maritime plastic sources, the manner by which they are distributed in the environment, and their effect on uptake by marine organisms are yet to be fully quantified. In this study, the relative impact of fishing activities on microplastic uptake by demersal fish and crustaceans was explored. Local fishing intensity, proximity to land and mean water velocity are compared to microplastic uptake in plaice, Pleuronectes platessa, and spider crab, Maja squinado, from the Celtic Sea. Observations were also made of microplastic contamination in ingested sand eels, Ammodytes tobianus, to establish a potential route of trophic transfer. This study is the first to identify microplastic contamination in spider crab and to document trophic transfer in the wild. Individuals were sampled from sites of varied fishing intensity in the Celtic Sea, and their stomach contents examined for the presence of microplastic. Contamination was observed in 50% of P. platessa, 42.4% of M. squinado, and 44.4% of A. tobianus. Locations of highest plastic abundance varied between P. platessa and M. squinado, indicating that different factors influence the uptake of microplastic in these two taxa. No significant link was observed between fishing effort and microplastic abundance; however, proximity to land was linked to increased abundance in M. squinado and Observations of whole prey demonstrate ongoing trophic transfer from A. tobianus to P. platessa. The lack of significant difference in microplastic abundance between predator and prey suggests that microplastic is not retained by P. platessa.

N. A. Welden, B. Abylkhani, L. M. Howarth, Environmental Pollution, Volume 239, August 2018, Pages 351–358

The article

Two forage fishes as potential conduits for the vertical transfer of microfibres in Northeastern Pacific Ocean food webs

We assessed the potential role played by two vital Northeastern Pacific Ocean forage fishes, the Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes personatus) and Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), as conduits for the vertical transfer of microfibres in food webs. We quantified the number of microfibres found in the stomachs of 734 sand lance and 205 herring that had been captured by an abundant seabird, the rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata). Sampling took place on six widely-dispersed breeding colonies in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington State, USA, over one to eight years. The North Pacific Ocean is a global hotspot for pollution, yet few sand lance (1.5%) or herring (2.0%) had ingested microfibres. In addition, there was no systematic relationship between the prevalence of microplastics in the fish stomachs vs. in waters around three of our study colonies (measured in an earlier study). Sampling at a single site (Protection Island, WA) in a single year (2016) yielded most (sand lance) or all (herring) of the microfibres recovered over the 30 colony-years of sampling involved in this study, yet no microfibres had been recovered there, in either species, in the previous year. We thus found no evidence that sand lance and herring currently act as major food-web conduits for microfibres along British Columbia’s outer coast, nor that the local at-sea density of plastic necessarily determines how much plastic enters marine food webs via zooplanktivores. Extensive urban development around the Salish Sea probably explains the elevated microfibre loads in fishes collected on Protection Island, but we cannot account for the between-year variation. Nonetheless, the existence of such marked interannual variation indicates the importance of measuring year-to-year variation in microfibre pollution both at sea and in marine biota.

J. M. Hipfner, M. Galbraith, S. Tucker and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 239, August 2018, Pages 215-222

The article

Virgin microplastics are not causing imminent harm to fish after dietary exposure

Among aquatic organisms, fish are particularly susceptible to ingesting microplastic particles due to their attractive coloration, buoyancy, and resemblance to food. However, in previous experimental setups, fish were usually exposed to unrealistically high concentrations of microplastics, or the microplastics were deliberately contaminated with persistent organic chemicals; also, in many experiments, the fish were exposed only during the larval stages. The present study investigated the effects of virgin microplastics in gilt-head seabream (Sparus aurata) after 45 days’ exposure at 0.1 g kg−1 bodyweight day−1 to 6 common types of microplastics. The overall growth, biochemical analyses of the blood, histopathology, and the potential of the microplastics to accumulate in gastrointestinal organs or translocate to the liver and muscles were monitored and recorded. The results revealed that ingestion of virgin microplastics does not cause imminent harm to the adult gilt-head seabream during 45 days of exposure and an additional 30 days of depuration. The retention of virgin microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract was fairly low, indicating effective elimination of microplastics from the body of the fish and no significant accumulation after successive meals. Therefore, both the short- and the long-term retention potential of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of fish is close to zero. However, some large particles remained trapped in the liver, and 5.3% of all the livers analyzed contained at least one microplastic particle. In conclusion, the dietary exposure of S. aurata to 6 common types of virgin microplastics did not induce stress, alter the growth rate, cause pathology, or cause the microplastics to accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract of the fish.

Boris Jovanović, Kerem Gökdağ, Olgaç Güven and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 130, May 2018, Pages 123-131

The article

The influence of microplastics and halogenated contaminants in feed on toxicokinetics and gene expression in European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax)

When microplastics pollute fish habitats, it may be ingested by fish, thereby contaminating fish with sorbed contaminants. The present study investigates how combinations of halogenated contaminants and microplastics associated with feed are able to alter toxicokinetics in European seabass and affect the fish. Microplastic particles (2%) were added to the feed either with sorbed contaminants or as a mixture of clean microplastics and chemical contaminants, and compared to feed containing contaminants without microplastics. For the contaminated microplastic diet, the accumulation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in fish was significantly higher, increasing up to 40 days of accumulation and then reversing to values comparable to the other diets at the end of accumulation. The significant gene expression results of liver (cyp1a, il1β, gstα) after 40 days of exposure indicate that microplastics might indeed exacerbate the toxic effects (liver metabolism, immune system, oxidative stress) of some chemical contaminants sorbed to microplastics. Seabass quickly metabolised BDE99 to BDE47 by debromination, probably mediated by deiodinase enzymes, and unlike other contaminants, this metabolism was unaffected by the presence of microplastics. For the other PCBs and BFRs, the elimination coefficients were significantly lower in fish fed the diet with contaminants sorbed to microplastic compared to the other diets. The results indicate that microplastics affects liver detoxification and lipid distribution, both of which affect the concentration of contaminants.

Kit Granby, Sandra Rainieri, Rie Romme Rasmussen and al., Environmental Research, Volume 164, July 2018, Pages 430-443

The article

The influence of exposure and physiology on microplastic ingestion by the freshwater fish Rutilus rutilus (roach) in the River Thames, UK

Microplastics are widespread throughout aquatic environments. However, there is currently insufficient understanding of the factors influencing ingestion of microplastics by organisms, especially higher predators such as fish. In this study we link ingestion of microplastics by the roach Rutilus rutilus, within the non-tidal part of the River Thames, to exposure and physiological factors. Microplastics were found within the gut contents of roach from six out of seven sampling sites. Of sampled fish, 33% contained at least one microplastic particle. The majority of particles were fibres (75%), with fragments and films also seen (22.7% and 2.3% respectively). Polymers identified were polyethylene, polypropylene and polyester, in addition to a synthetic dye. The maximum number of ingested microplastic particles for individual fish was strongly correlated to exposure (based on distance from the source of the river). Additionally, at a given exposure, the size of fish correlated with the actual quantity of microplastics in the gut. Larger (mainly female) fish were more likely to ingest the maximum possible number of particles than smaller (mainly male) fish. This study is the first to show microplastic ingestion within freshwater fish in the UK and provides valuable new evidence of the factors influencing ingestion that can be used to inform future studies on exposure and hazard of microplastics to fish.

Alice A. Horton, Monika D. Jürgens, Elma Lahive, Peter M. van Bodegom, Martina G. Vijver, Environmental Pollution, Volume 236, May 2018, Pages 188–194

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