Responses to environmentally relevant microplastics are species-specific with dietary habit as a potential sensitivity indicator
There is a lack of information on understanding how marine organisms respond to environmentally relevant microplastics (MP) which hampers decision making for waste management strategies. This study addresses this information gap by determining whether responses to MPs are species specific within a functional group. Benthic residing sea urchins, Psammechinus miliaris and Paracentrotus lividus were used as a case study. Psammechinus miliaris are strong omnivores with dietary intake including hard components (e.g. shell, tubeworms) and therefore likely to cope with the ingestion of MPs, while P. lividus are strong herbivores consuming softer dietary items (e.g. biofilms, algae) and therefore more likely sensitive. Responses to environmentally relevant MPs were conducted across two trials. Trial one determined the impact of short term (24 h) external exposure to storm-like sediment resuspension of MP concentrations (53 μm polyvinyl chloride (PVC) 25,000 MP L−1) compared to a control without MPs. No significant impacts were observed for both P. lividus and P. miliaris on metabolic rate or righting time, and urchins were able to remove MPs from the body surface using pedicellariae and cilia. Trial two determined the impact of medium term (2 months) ingestion of a diet laced with PVC MPs (59 μm) at an inclusion rate of 0.5% mass and a control diet (without MPs) on somatic growth and animal condition. The ingestion of MPs did not significantly impact P. miliaris but significantly reduced the alimentary index within P. lividus, indicating a compromised nutritional state. This study shows that responses to microplastics are species-specific and therefore cannot be generalized. Furthermore, feeding habit could act as a potential indicator for sensitivity to MP ingestion which will be important for impact assessments of plastic pollution and management strategies.