The ubiquitous detection of microplastics in aquatic ecosystems promotes the concern for adverse impacts on freshwater ecosystems. The wide variety of material types, sizes, shapes, and physicochemical properties renders interactions with biota via multiple pathways probable.
So far, our knowledge about the uptake and biological effects of microplastics comes from laboratory studies, applying simplified exposure regimes (e.g., one polymer and size, spherical shape, high concentrations) often with limited environmental relevance. However, the available data illustrates species- and material-related interactions and highlights that microplastics represent a multifaceted stressor. Particle-related toxicities will be driven by polymer type, size, and shape. Chemical toxicity is driven by the adsorption-desorption kinetics of additives and pollutants. In addition, microbial colonization, the formation of hetero-aggregates, and the evolutionary adaptations of the biological receptor further increase the complexity of microplastics as stressors. Therefore, the aim of this chapter is to synthesize and critically revisit these aspects based on the state of the science in freshwater research. Where unavailable we supplement this with data on marine biota. This provides an insight into the direction of future research.
In this regard, the challenge is to understand the complex interactions of biota and plastic materials and to identify the toxicologically most relevant characteristics of the plethora of microplastics. Importantly, as the direct biological impacts of natural particles may be similar, future research needs to benchmark synthetic against natural materials. Finally, given the scale of the research question, we need a multidisciplinary approach to understand the role of microplastics in a multiple-particle world.
Autecology, Feeding types, Microplastic-biota interaction, Polymers, Suspended solids, Vector
Christian Scherer, Annkatrin Weber, Scott Lambert, Martin Wagner (2017): Interactions of microplastics with freshwater biota. In: Martin Wagner & Scott Lambert (Eds.): Freshwater microplastics: Emerging environmental contaminants? The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry. Springer-Verlag.