New research from Queen’s University Belfast and Liverpool John Moores University reveals how the microplastic pollution crisis is threatening biodiversity.
Currently up to 10 per cent of global plastic production ends up in the sea although the understanding of how this affects marine life is limited. The research, published in Biology Letters, focused on the impact of plastics on hermit crabs, which play an important role in balancing the marine ecosystem.
Hermit crabs do not develop their own shells but instead take shells from snails to protect their soft abdomens. As a hermit crab grows over the years, it will need to find a succession of larger and larger shells to replace the ones that have become too small. These shells are vital in protecting and enabling hermit crabs to grow, reproduce and survive.
The researchers found that when hermit crabs were exposed to microplastics, they were less likely to later touch or enter high-quality shells.
Dr Emily Bethell, Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences at LJMU and co-author on the paper, explains: “This research shows that exposure to microplastics can disrupt hermit crab behaviour. We found that the presence of microplastics in the environment impaired their ability to select the best shells available.”
Read the paper: Andrew Crump, Charlotte Mullens, Emily J. Bethell, Eoghan M. Cunningham and Gareth Arnott Microplastics disrupt hermit crab shell selection. Biol. Lett. doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0030