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AB prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Microplastic contamination reduces productivity in a widespread freshwater photosymbiosis

B. Makin

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Microplastic (plastic particles <5 mm in size) contamination is ubiquitous in nature and known to interact with organisms ranging from microbes to mammals. Notably, recent studies have shown that microplastics may interfere with photosymbiosis, an ecologically-important association that has suffered pronounced recent declines in the face of contemporary climate change. However, limited findings thus far are largely focussed on select marine associations. Whether freshwater photosymbioses may also be affected remains poorly understood. Here, I aim to help bridge this gap by asking whether microplastic contamination impacts several traits (growth rate, symbiont density, metabolic rate, and feeding rate) in a common and widespread freshwater photosymbiosis, the Paramecium bursaria-Chlorella spp. association. To address how productivity, an important ecosystem service provided by photosymbiosis globally, could be affected, I also measure changes in photosymbiotic net productivity. To do so, I exposed the symbiosis to microplastics (microbeads extracted from commercial face wash) under laboratory conditions. My key result is that, compared with non-contaminated control cultures, the contaminated symbiosis demonstrated a lower net productivity. This response raises concern for primary production rates in freshwater ecosystems contaminated with microplastics, adding to an established story of widespread degradation associated with microplastic pollution globally.