Spatial arrangement of biogenic reefs alters boundary layer characteristics to increase risk of microplastic bioaccumulation
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Microplastics are now synonymous with human impacts on the environment and as a threat to marine organisms. Numerous taxa are at risk from microplastics including commercially valuable bivalves as seafood, which are also disproportionately important as biogenic reef-forming species that enhance biodiversity such that they're commonly protected under conservation actions. As a sessile filter-feeding organism, bivalves are highly susceptible to microplastic ingestion but despite their socio-economic and ecological importance, no research has been undertaken to assess how a reef's structural arrangement might affect plastic ingestion. Here, using a series of flume experiments, we examined how change in spatial arrangement of the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, interacts with different flow speeds to effect retention of microplastic over reef surfaces and ingestion risk by individual mussels. Our results show that clumped spatial arrangements reduce boundary layer velocities, and increase turbulence, boundary layer thickness and plastic retention over reef surfaces under faster flow conditions, increasing plastic ingestion by 3-fold. Our findings suggest that the structural arrangement and rugosity of natural reef structures may create natural sinks of anthropogenic pollution, and species like Mytilus that are also important species for human consumption, while disproportionately susceptible to microplastic pollution, may be useful bioindicators of microplastic pollution.
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