The role of biological processes in affecting the dynamics and fate of microplastics in coastal marine systems

Piarulli, Stefania (2020) The role of biological processes in affecting the dynamics and fate of microplastics in coastal marine systems, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Scienze della terra, della vita e dell'ambiente, 32 Ciclo. DOI 10.48676/unibo/amsdottorato/9440.
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Microplastics (MP) are omnipresent contaminants in the marine environment. Ingestion of MP has been reported for a wide range of marine biota, but to what extent the uptake by organisms affects the dynamics and fate of MP in the marine system has received little attention. My thesis explored this topic by integrating laboratory tests and experiments, field quantitative surveys of MP distribution and dynamics, and the use of specialised analytical techniques such as Attenuated-Total-Reflectance- (ATR) and imaging- Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR). I compared different methodologies to extract MP from wild invertebrate specimens, and selected the use of potassium hydroxide (KOH) as the most cost-effective approach. I used this approach to analyse the MP contamination in various invertebrate species with different ecological traits from European salt marshes. I found that 96% of the analysed specimens (330) did not contain any MP. As preliminary environmental analyses showed high levels of environmental MP contamination, I hypothesised that most MP do not accumulate into organisms but are rather fast egested. I subsequently used laboratory multi-trophic experiments and a long-term field experiment using the filter-feeding mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis and the detritus feeding polychaete Hediste diversicolor to test the aforementioned hypothesis. Overall, results showed that MP are ingested but rapidly egested by marine invertebrates, which may limit MP transfer via predator-prey interactions but at the same time enhance their transfer via detrital pathways in the sediments. These processes seem to be extremely variable over time, with potential unexplored environmental consequences. This rapid dynamics also limits the conclusions that can be derived from static observations of MP contents in marine organisms, not fully capturing the real levels of potential contaminations by marine species. This emphasises the need to consider such dynamics in future work to measure the uptake rates by organisms in natural systems.

Tipologia del documento
Tesi di dottorato
Piarulli, Stefania
Dottorato di ricerca
Settore disciplinare
Settore concorsuale
Parole chiave
Microplastics; Extraction; Salt marsh; feeding modes; mussels; vertical flux; biodeposits; detritus-feeders; filter-feeders
Data di discussione
23 Marzo 2020

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