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Plastics infiltrate Antarctic food webs

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
Peer-reviewed: This work was reviewed and scrutinised by relevant independent experts.

An international team of researchers has reported the first field-based evidence that plastics are entering food webs in Antarctica. The team found a tiny, insect-like animal called a collembolans floating on a piece of polystyrene foam along the shores of the Fildes Peninsula (King George Island). Using a specialised microscope, the researchers detected traces of polystyrene in the gut of the collembolans, indicating that the creature had ingested the plastic. They conclude that plastics may now pose a new threat to polar ecosystems.

Journal/conference: Biology Letters

DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2020.0093

Organisation/s: University of Siena, Italy; University College Dublin, Ireland

Funder: This work was funded by the Italian National Antarctic Program (project PNRA 14_00090) and the CERIC ERIC Consortium for the access to experimental facilities and financial support (beam-time number 20192144)

Media release

From: The Royal Society

This study presents the first field-based evidence of plastic ingestion by a central component of Antarctic terrestrial food webs, the collembolan Cryptopygus antarcticus, found on a large polystyrene item in a fellfield along the shores of the Fildes Peninsula (King George Island). The application of an improved enzymatic digestion coupled with Fourier Transform InfraRed microscopy allowed to detect traces of polystyrene (< 100 µm) in the gut of the collembolans associated with the PS foam, showing their ability to ingest plastic. These results reveal a potential risk associated with the occurrence of plastic debris in Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems.

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