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Litter provides habitat for diverse animal communities in rivers, study finds - University of Nottingham

In a study of local rivers, experts at the University of Nottingham have discovered more invertebrates – animals without a backbone, such as insects and snails - living on litter than on rocks.

In urban rivers where there are no better alternatives, litter provided the largest, most stable and complex habitat available for invertebrates to live on.

The findings could have important implications for the management of urban rivers, including how river clean-up events are conducted.

The research team, in the School of Geography, studied three local rivers; the River Leen, Black Brook, and Saffron Brook, in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire by collecting samples of rocks and litter from the riverbeds to compare in their laboratory.

The scientists found that the surfaces of the litter were inhabited by different and more diverse communities of invertebrates than those on rocks. Plastic, metal, fabric, and masonry samples consistently had the highest diversity, meanwhile, glass and rock samples were considerably less diverse than other material samples.

They observed that flexible pieces of plastic, like plastic bags, were inhabited by the most diverse communities and speculated that the types of invertebrates they found on flexible plastic suggests it might mimic the structure of water plants.

The study is the first of its kind to evaluate the role of litter as a riverine habitat and has been published in the journal Freshwater Biology.

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Posted On: 25/01/2021

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