Microplastics on beaches: ingestion and behavioural consequences for beachhoppers

Abstract

Microplastics are ubiquitous in the marine environment worldwide, and may cause a physical and chemical risk to marine organisms. Their small size makes them bioavailable to a range of organisms with evidence of ingestion at all levels of the marine ecosystem. Despite an increasing body of research into microplastics, few studies have explored how consumption changes complex behaviours such as predator avoidance and social interactions. Pollutant exposure can result in alterations in behaviour that not only leads to sub optimal conditions for individual organisms but may also serve as a warning sign for wider effects on a system. This research assessed the impacts of microplastics on the ecology of coastal biota using beachhoppers (Platorchestia smithi) as model organisms. We exposed beachhoppers to marine-contaminated microplastics to understand effects on survival and behaviour. Beachhoppers readily ingested microplastics, and there was evidence for accumulation of microplastics within the organisms. Exposure tests showed that microplastic consumption can affect beachhopper survival. Individuals also displayed reduced jump height and an increase in weight, however, there was no significant difference in time taken to relocate shelter post disturbance. Overall, these results show that short-term ingestion of microplastics have an impact on survival and behaviour of P. smithi. A reduction in the capacity for beachhoppers to survive and function may have flow on effects to their local environment and higher trophic levels.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the members and interns of the MEG and BEEF labs for field and laboratory assistance, to Carlita Foster-Hogg for work on beachhopper weight analysis, Sarah Houlhan for undertaking GC MS analysis of microplastics and beachhoppers, and to Alistair Poore for advice on beachhopper husbandry. Beachhopper collections were conducted under NSW Fisheries Scientific Collection Permit number P14/0032-1.1. This is contribution #189 from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS).

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This research was funded by the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University.

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Tosetto, L., Brown, C. & Williamson, J.E. Microplastics on beaches: ingestion and behavioural consequences for beachhoppers. Mar Biol 163, 199 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-016-2973-0

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Keywords

  • PAHs
  • PCBs
  • Exposure Test
  • Jump Height
  • Jump Frequency