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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 675:23-33 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13846

Prevalence of microplastics and anthropogenic debris within a deep-sea food web

Bonnie M. Hamilton1, Chelsea M. Rochman1, Timothy J. Hoellein2, Bruce H. Robison3, Kyle S. Van Houtan4,5, C. Anela Choy6,*

1University of Toronto, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Toronto, Ontario M5S, Canada
2Loyola University Chicago, Department of Biology, Chicago, Illinois 60660, USA
3Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA
4Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California 93940, USA
5Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA
6Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Microplastic particles (<5 mm) are ubiquitous throughout global marine ecosystems, including the deep sea. Ingestion of microplastics and other anthropogenic microparticles is reported in diverse marine taxa across trophic levels. Trophic transfer, or the movement of microplastics across trophic levels, is reported in laboratory studies but not yet widely measured in marine food webs. The Monterey Bay submarine canyon ecosystem contains a well-studied, known deep-sea food web in which to examine the trophic fate of microplastics. We measured microplastic abundance across 17 genera spanning approximately 5 trophic levels and a diversity of feeding behaviors. Samples were collected using remotely operated vehicles and oblique midwater trawls, and gut contents of all individuals examined (n = 157) were analyzed for microplastic abundance and other anthropogenic particles greater than 100 µm using stereo microscopy. Microparticles were analyzed with Raman spectroscopy to confirm material type. Anthropogenic particles were found in all genera examined, across crustacean, fish, mollusk, and gelatinous organisms, in amounts ranging from 0 to 24 particles per individual. There was no significant relationship between microplastic amount and fish trophic level, suggesting that the trophic transfer of microparticles is not occurring. Body size was positively correlated with microplastic abundance across all taxa. The fish genus Scomber sp. drove this relationship, suggesting higher microparticle abundance in mobile individuals with broad horizontal distributions. Future work should examine physiological pathways for microplastic transport within organisms (e.g. excretion, accumulation on gills, internal translocation of particles) and between organisms within shared habitats to more fully understand the fate of microplastics within aquatic food webs.


KEY WORDS: Monterey Bay · Trophic ecology · Marine food web · Raman spectroscopy · Deep pelagic · Ingestion · Body size


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Cite this article as: Hamilton BM, Rochman CM, Hoellein TJ, Robison BH, Van Houtan KS, Choy CA (2021) Prevalence of microplastics and anthropogenic debris within a deep-sea food web. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 675:23-33. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13846

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