Bridging the gap: synthesis of microplastic research from field and laboratory studies, facilitating a better understanding of microplastic impacts on freshwater biota

, Kukkola Anna, Krause Stefan, Lynch Iseult, Sambrook-Smith Gregory, Nel Holly.

Microplastics are known to pollute freshwater environments and interact with freshwater biota. However, the present understanding of their potential effects in the freshwater environment is limited, hindered by the mismatch between field and laboratory based studies. Our extensive review of published literature identified fibres as the major morphology found in organisms in the field, but these are currently lacking from laboratory-based toxicity studies which focus on spheres / granules. Certain plastic types are over-expressed in laboratory settings and don't match those identified in the field. To bridge these gaps, we recommend that field studies make more stringent efforts to report on plastics at the lower end of the size scale, and minimize conclusions based on visual identification only which miss large fractions of particles. For lab studies, expansion to more realistic plastic types / shapes should be prioritized. Both lab and field studies should improve reporting on the chemical composition of plastics, and include studies of leaching of cofounding factors, such as plasticizers and colorants, supplemented with chemical fingerprinting wherever possible. The plastics found under field conditions are typically larger than those used in toxicity testing, despite field evidence that bigger particles are capable of translocating in fish; the expansion of laboratory toxicity studies to bigger plastics sizes is encouraged. Finally, the endpoints used in toxicity testing varied greatly, making comparison between studies difficult. We recommend principal endpoints for three major trophic levels: for primary producers photosynthetic activity and growth should always be included, and as secondary endpoints gene regulation or stress responses can be explored. For primary consumers, principal endpoints should be growth and mortality with reproduction and multigenerational studies as secondary endpoints. For secondary consumers, growth, mortality and locomotion/behavioral changes should always be reported, supplemented with secondary sub-lethal endpoints such as AChE activity and oxidative stress.

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