Microplastics alter feeding selectivity and faecal density in the copepod, Calanus helgolandicus.Sci Total Environ. 2019 Oct 15; 687:780-789.ST
Microplastics (1 μm-5 mm) are a ubiquitous marine contaminant of global concern, ingested by a wide range of marine taxa. Copepods are a key component of marine food webs, providing a source of food for higher trophic levels, and playing an important role in marine nutrient cycling. Microplastic ingestion has been documented in copepods, but knowledge gaps remain over how this affects feeding preference and faecal density. Here, we use exposure studies incorporating algal prey and microplastics of varying sizes and shapes at a concentration of 100 microplastics mL-1 to show: (1) prey selection by the copepod Calanus helgolandicus was affected by the size and shape of microplastics and algae they were exposed to; Exposure to nylon fibres resulted in a 6% decrease in ingestion of similar shaped chain-forming algae, whilst exposure to nylon fragments led to an 8% decrease in ingestion of a unicellular algae that were similar in shape and size. (2) Ingestion of microplastics with different densities altered the sinking rates of faecal pellets. Faeces containing low-density polyethylene sank significantly more slowly than controls, whilst sinking rates increased when faeces contained high-density polyethylene terephthalate. These results suggest that C. helgolandicus avoid ingesting algae that are similar in size and/or shape to the microplastic particles they are exposed to, potentially in a bid to avoid consuming the plastic.