Plastic, nutrition and pollution; relationships between ingested plastic and metal concentrations in the livers of two Pachyptila seabirds
Naturally occurring metals and metalloids [metal(loid)s] are essential for the physiological functioning of wildlife; however, environmental contamination by metal(loid) and plastic pollutants is a health hazard. Metal(loid)s may interact with plastic in the environment and there is mixed evidence about whether plastic ingested by wildlife affects metal(loid) absorption/assimilation and concentration in the body. We examined ingested plastic and liver concentration of eleven metal(loid)s in two seabird species: fairy (Pachyptila turtur) and slender-billed prions (P. belcheri). We found significant relationships between ingested plastic and the concentrations of aluminium (Al), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) in the liver of prions. We investigated whether the pattern of significant relationships reflected plastic-metal(loid) associations predicted in the scientific literature, including by transfer of metals from ingested plastics or malnutrition due to dietary dilution by plastics in the gut. We found some support for both associations, suggesting that ingested plastic may be connected with dietary dilution / lack of essential nutrients, especially iron, and potential transfer of zinc. We did not find a relationship between plastic and non-essential metal(loid)s, including lead. The effect of plastic was minor compared to that of dietary exposure to metal(oid)s, and small plastic loads (< 3 items) had no discernible link with metal(loid)s. This new evidence shows a relationship between plastic ingestion and liver metal(loid) concentrations in free-living wildlife.
Publication titleScientific Reports
Department/SchoolInstitute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
PublisherNature Publishing Group
Place of publicationUnited Kingdom
Rights statementCopyright 2020 the authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/