Quantifying microplastics across trophic levels in marine food webs of coastal British Columbia, Canada

, Covernton Garth, Cox Kieran, Fleming Wendy, Buirs Brittany, Davies Hailey, Juanes Frances, Dudas Sarah, Dower John.

Microplastic contamination in marine environments is of increasing concern as plastic particles have been found to be globally ubiquitous across ecosystems. Concentrations ranging from 8–9,200 particles/m3 have been found in seawater collected throughout coastal British Columbia (BC). A large variety of aquatic taxa have been shown to ingest microplastic particles (MPs), raising the potential for detrimental health effects following ingestion. However, the extent to which MPs can be accumulated and transferred through food webs remains unknown. We quantified MP uptake in bivalves, crabs, echinoderms, and fish that feed at different trophic levels at three sites on southern Vancouver Island. We paired stable isotope food web analysis with MP concentrations in digestive tracts across all trophic levels, and in the livers of the fish. We determined that MPs (100-5000 µm along their longest dimension) are not accumulating to the degree that would constitute biomagnification in marine coastal food webs. This was also true for other anthropogenic particles made of natural material, primarily cellulosic fibres. Moreover, there was no consistent correlation between digestive tract MP concentration and trophic position of the various species, or for the livers of fish. This suggests that if exposure is considered in terms of body weight, animals at lower trophic levels are at the greatest risk for any potential health effects of MP exposure.

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