In an article published on June 2, 2016 by The Washington Post, journalist Chelsea Harvey reports on a new study investigating the effects of microplastic polystyrene particles on the European perch (Perca fluviatilis). The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science on June 3, 2016 and conducted by researchers Oona M. Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv from Uppsala University, Sweden. Lönnstedt and Eklöv exposed perch eggs and larvae to water containing i) no microplastic particles, ii) a concentration of about 10,000 particles per m3 (average level observed on the Swedish coast), and iii) a concentration of about 80,000 particles per m3 (high level, also observed on the Swedish coast). Fish eggs exposed to microplastics had a lower hatch rate as compared to the controls. Hatched fish larvae exposed to microplastics were also smaller and less physically active as compared to non-exposed larvae. Further, fish larvae under microplastics treatment responded weaker to chemical alarm cues indicating the presence of a predator, and as a result had a lower survival rate when in presence of a natural predator. All of these effects were most pronounced at the higher microplastics concentration. Also, perch larvae exposed to microplastics exhibited a preference for consuming microplastic over other, real food sources. This could be costing the fish energy and even starve them over time, the researchers suspect. Lönnstedt and Eklöv conclude that environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles operate both chemically and physically on the early life stages of perch, impairing crucial behaviors such as activity, feeding, and predator-avoidance.
Chelsea Harvey (June 2, 2016). “What tiny plastic particles are doing to tiny fish.” The Washington Post
Lorraine Chow (June 3, 2016). “Microplastics are killing baby fish, new study finds.” EcoWatch
Lönnstedt O.M. and Peter Eklöv, P. (2016). “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology.” Science 325(6290):1213-1216.