Common microplastics in aquatic systems and their effects on fish

The abundance of microplastics in the environment is rising with increasing anthropogenic mass production of plastics. Unintentional released plastic items and mismanaged plastic waste disintegrate into smaller microplastic fragments, which spread through wind, with wastewater and runoffs. This results in a global distribution of microplastics in the atmosphere, terrestrial, and aquatic environments. The high persistence of microplastic items that can last hundreds of years leads to their progressive accumulation in the environment. The increasing occurrence of plastics in the environment raised concerns that organisms inhabiting aquatic systems are negatively affected by microplastics, which could induce disturbances of communities and ecosystems. To determine the actual risks of microplastics in the environment, information about current and potential future concentrations of microplastics in nature together with knowledge on its toxicity thresholds in individuals, communities, and ecosystems are required. Therefore, the present thesis addresses, which microplastic types are relevant for aquatic systems and investigates their potential toxicity and health effects on different life stages of fish (threespined sticklebacks) in laboratory studies.

The focus was set on microplastic fibers as one of the most common microplastic components in the environment. Despite their ubiquity, microplastic fibers were rarely investigated in previous impact studies conducted with microplastics and aquatic organisms. This thesis was carried out in the framework of the project PlasM (Plastic litter and Marine fish) at the Thünen-Institute for Fisheries Ecology, and focuses to analyze and assess the potential risk of microplastic fibers on fish health.



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