Microplastics are abundant and widespread in the marine environment. They are a contaminant of global environmental and economic concern. Due to their small size a wide range of marine species, including zooplankton can ingest them. Research has shown that microplastics are readily ingested by several zooplankton taxa, with associated negative impacts on biological processes. Zooplankton is a crucial food source for many secondary consumers, consequently this represents a route whereby microplastic could enter the food web and transfer up the trophic levels. In this review we aim to: 1) evaluate the current knowledge base regarding microplastic ingestion by zooplankton in both the laboratory and the field; and 2) summarise the factors which contribute to the bioavailability of microplastics to zooplankton. Current literature shows that microplastic ingestion has been recorded in 39 zooplankton species from 28 taxonomic orders including holo- and meroplanktonic species. The majority of studies occurred under laboratory conditions and negative effects were reported in ten studies (45%) demonstrating effects on feeding behaviour, growth, development, reproduction and lifespan. In contrast, three studies (14%) reported no negative effects from microplastic ingestion. Several physical and biological factors can influence the bioavailability of microplastics to zooplankton, such as size, shape, age and abundance. We identified that microplastics used in experiments are often different to those quantified in the marine environment, particularly in terms of concentration, shape, type and age. We therefore suggest that future research should include microplastics that are more representative of those found in the marine environment at relevant concentrations. Additionally, investigating the effects of microplastic ingestion on a broader range of zooplankton species and life stages, will help to answer key knowledge gaps regarding the effect of microplastic on recruitment, species populations and ultimately broader economic consequences such as impacts on shell- and finfish stocks.



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Environmental Pollution



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School of Biological and Marine Sciences


Marine litter, Microplastic, Plankton, Plastic pollution, Selectivity