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Beyond the Ocean: Plastic particles in freshwater ecosystems

Hannes Imhof1, Natalia P. Ivleva2, Johannes Schmid2, Reinhard Niessner2, Christian Laforsch1
1 Animal Ecology I, University of Bayreuth
2 Institute of Hydrochemistry (IWC), Chair for Analytical Chemistry, Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen (TUM)

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Although plastic debris is constantly accumulating in aquatic environments, the impact on aquatic ecosystems is not yet fully understood. Buoyant plastic particles accumulate in pelagic habitats whereas non-floating debris accumulates in benthic habitats or on the seafloor and in beach sediments, posing risk to the respective communities. Microplastic particles are either directly introduced via sewage discharge or formed by biofouling and mechanical abrasion. Their size and their characteristics make plastic particles prone to the ingestion by a wide range of invertebrates from different functional levels. The resulting bioaccumulation of microplastic particles underpins that contamination with plastic debris may be as hazardous to the biota of freshwater as well as marine ecosystems.

There is, nevertheless, a considerable lack of knowledge on the contamination of freshwater ecosystems with plastic debris.

We show that the amount of macro- and even microplastic particles is reaching similar magnitudes as found in marine environments, suggesting that freshwater systems do not only act as a source for marine contamination. This indicates, that plastic waste pollution is not restricted to ocean system, but also poses an increasing threat to lakes and stream ecosystems.

last modified 2014-09-09