Ingestion of Microplastics by Zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean
Microplastics are increasingly recognized as being widespread in the world’s oceans, but relatively little is known about ingestion by marine biota. In light of the potential for microplastic fibers and fragments to be taken up by small marine organisms, we examined plastic ingestion by two foundation species near the base of North Pacific marine food webs, the calanoid copepod Neocalanus cristatus and the euphausiid Euphausia pacifia. We developed an acid digestion method to assess plastic ingestion by individual zooplankton and detected microplastics in both species. Encounter rates resulting from ingestion were 1 particle/every 34 copepods and 1/every 17 euphausiids (euphausiids > copepods; p = 0.01). Consistent with differences in the size selection of food between these two zooplankton species, the ingested particle size was greater in euphausiids (816 ± 108 μm) than in copepods (556 ± 149 μm) (p = 0.014). The contribution of ingested microplastic fibres to total plastic decreased with distance from shore in euphausiids (r2 = 70, p = 0.003), corresponding to patterns in our previous observations of microplastics in seawater samples from the same locations. This first evidence of microplastic ingestion by marine zooplankton indicate that species at lower trophic levels of the marine food web are mistaking plastic for food, which raises fundamental questions about potential risks to higher trophic level species. One concern is risk to salmon: We estimate that consumption of microplastic-containing zooplankton will lead to the ingestion of 2–7 microplastic particles/day by individual juvenile salmon in coastal British Columbia, and ≤91 microplastic particles/day in returning adults.