University Of Tasmania

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Is plastic ingestion in birds as toxic as we think? Insights from a plastic feeding experiment

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 01:18 authored by Lauren Roman, Lowenstine, L, Laura ParsleyLaura Parsley, Wilcox, C, Hardesty, BD, Gilardi, K, Mark HindellMark Hindell
Plastic pollution is a modern tragedy of the commons, with hundreds of species affected by society's waste. Birds in particular mistake plastic for prey, and millions of wild birds carry small plastic loads in their stomach and are exposed to potential toxicological effects. It is currently unknown how severely the toxicological and endocrine disrupting chemicals in plastic affect avian development, reproduction and endocrine function. To address this question, we conducted multi-generational plastic feeding experiments to test the toxicological consequences of plastic ingestion at environmentally relevant loads in Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica, investigating parental and two filial generations. Contrary to expectations, we found no evidence of lasting toxicological effects on mortality, adult body weight, organ histology, hormone levels, fertility, hatch rates and eggshell strength in birds experimentally fed plastic. However, we found plastic ingestion causes higher frequencies of male reproductive cysts and minor delays in chick growth and sexual maturity, though without affecting ultimate survival or reproductive output. We report that although plastic ingestion causes detectable endocrine effects in our model species, our lack of finding mortality, morbidity and adverse reproductive outcomes may challenge the common hypothesis of severe toxicological harm and population-level effects when environmentally relevant loads of plastic are ingested.


Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment


Publication title

Science of The Total Environment








Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Elsevier Science Bv

Place of publication

Po Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae

Rights statement

Crown Copyright© 2019 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Measurement and assessment of marine water quality and condition; Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems; Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences