Response of bleached and symbiotic sea anemones to plastic microfiber exposure
Microplastics are emergent contaminants in the marine environment. They enter the ocean in a variety of sizes and shapes, with plastic microfiber being the prevalent form in seawater and in the guts of biota. Most of the laboratory experiments on microplastics has been performed with spheres, so knowledge on the interactions of microfibers and marine organisms is limited. In this study we examined the ingestion of microfibers by the sea anemone Aiptasia pallida using three different types of polymers: nylon, polyester and polypropylene. The polymers were offered to both symbiotic (with algal symbionts) and bleached (without algal symbionts) anemones. The polymers were introduced either alone or mixed with brine shrimp homogenate. We observed a higher percentage of nylon ingestion compared to the other polymers when plastic was offered in the absence of shrimp. In contrast, we observed over 80% of the anemones taking up all types of polymers when the plastics were offered in the presence of shrimp. Retention time differed significantly between symbiotic and bleached anemones with faster egestion in symbiotic anemones. Our results suggest that ingestion of microfibers by sea anemones is dependent both on the type of polymers and on the presence of chemical cues of prey in seawater. The decreased ability of bleached anemones to reject plastic microfiber indicates that the susceptibility of anthozoans to plastic pollution is exacerbated by previous exposure to other stressors. This is particularly concerning given that coral reef ecosystems are facing increases in the frequency and intensity of bleaching events due to global change stressors such as ocean warming and acidification.
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