Bioaccumulation and biomagnification of microplastics in marine organisms: A review and meta-analysis of current data
Microplastic (MP) contamination has been well documented across a range of habitats and for a large number of organisms in the marine environment. Consequently, bioaccumulation, and in particular biomagnification of MPs and associated chemical additives, are often inferred to occur in marine food webs. Presented here are the results of a systematic literature review to examine whether current, published findings support the premise that MPs and associated chemical additives bioaccumulate and biomagnify across a general marine food web. First, field and laboratory-derived contamination data on marine species were standardised by sample size from a total of 116 publications. Second, following assignment of each species to one of five main trophic levels, the average uptake of MPs and of associated chemical additives was estimated across all species within each level. These uptake data within and across the five trophic levels were then critically examined for any evidence of bioaccumulation and biomagnification. Findings corroborate previous studies that MP bioaccumulation occurs within each trophic level, while current evidence around bioaccumulation of associated chemical additives is much more ambiguous. In contrast, MP biomagnification across a general marine food web is not supported by current field observations, while results from the few laboratory studies supporting trophic transfer are hampered by using unrealistic exposure conditions. Further, a lack of both field and laboratory data precludes an examination of potential trophic transfer and biomagnification of chemical additives associated with MPs. Combined, these findings indicate that, although bioaccumulation of MPs occurs within trophic levels, no clear sign of MP biomagnification in situ was observed at the higher trophic levels. Recommendations for future studies to focus on investigating ingestion, retention and depuration rates for MPs and chemical additives under environmentally realistic conditions, and on examining the potential of multi-level trophic transfer for MPs and chemical additives have been made.