The contamination of natural systems with plastic debris has become one of the most pressing global environmental issues. Microplastics (MPs) are of particular concern because their ubiquity and small size make them available for ingestion by a range of aquatic biota. MP exposure studies are hence proliferating rapidly but are typically limited to the analyses of population-level responses in toxicity endpoints across treatments. Potential contaminant-induced alterations in behavioural patterns, however, could manifest on numerous levels of variation: at the population level, between individuals and within individuals. Here, we used repeated measures on startle response durations – a risk-avoidance mechanism – in European hermit crabs, Pagurus bernhardus, to measure behavioural responses to MP exposure across multiple levels of variation. We found that MP exposure led to a significant decrease of startle duration at the population-level as well as a reduction of intra-individual variation. In other words, crabs became less risk averse on average and their behaviour became more predictable with increasing MP concentrations. Collectively, our findings indicate that MP pollution might increase susceptibility to predation in hermit crabs.



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Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters



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School of Biological and Marine Sciences