A review on the impacts of microplastics on freshwater wild biota

, Alessandra Cera, Scalici Massimiliano.

Microplastics pollution exerts pressure on freshwater ecosystems globally, due to their abundance and widespread distribution. The impacts on biota are usually assessed by indoor experiments, however, a link between laboratory and natural observations is critical for better risk assessment and for prioritising research aims. We provide a review of the scientific literature on observations conducted on wild biota exposed to microplastics in nature since 2012. Fish and macroinvertebrates are the main taxa investigated, but amphibians, birds, and microorganisms are also observed. Especially for fish, the evaluation of microplastic ingestion is a common research topic. The results show contamination of the gastrointestinal tract of fish, but promising results are also emerging from liver investigations. The factors that cause fish to ingest microplastics are different, however, microplastics bioavailability and the act of feeding are thought to increase the ingestion. The environmental contamination of microplastics is linked to its proximity to sources, such as areas with high population density. Indeed, research on microplastics colonisation by microorganisms revealed a close relationship with urban areas, specifically to wastewater treatment plants effluents. Monitoring the occurrence and quantity of microplastics is increasingly required and fish and invertebrate species are emerging as suitable tools. In this regard, we support the publication of standardised protocols for the assessment of the concentration of microplastics in biota and for the identification of suitable indicator species for biological monitoring. Future research is suggested to include under-studied taxa, such as mammals, reptiles, amphibians and assessing the vulnerability of chicks to adult birds. We contributed with a collection of natural observation on the impacts of microplastics on wild biota for providing insight to researchers working in the laboratory experiments and in nature. This interdisciplinary approach wants to support the overall knowledge on the phenomena of microplastics pollution for a better assessment of environmental safety.

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