Plastic waste interferes with chemical communication in aquatic ecosystems.


Department of Animal Ecology I and BayCEER, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany. [Email]


Environmental pollution with plastic waste has gained increasing attention, as the contamination of aquatic habitats poses a challenge to these ecosystems. Plastic waste has direct negative effects on animals such as reduced growth rate, fecundity or life span. However, the indirect effects of plastic waste, which has the ability to sorb chemicals from the surrounding media, on chemical communication have yet to be investigated. Chemical communication is crucial for aquatic organisms, e.g., to avoid predation. The planktonic water flea Daphnia (Crustacea), an important link between trophic levels, relies on info-chemicals (kairomones) to assess its current predation risk and to form inducible defences. We show that plastic waste, composed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) interferes with the formation of inducible defences in Daphnia longicephala when exposed to a combination of kairomones of Notonecta glauca and plastic waste. D. longicephala shows a reduction in all defensive traits, including body length, crest width and time until primiparity, compared to exposure to solely kairomone conditioned media. Plastic waste in the absence of kairomones had no effect on defensive traits. Since it is vital to adjust these defences to the current predation risk, any misperception can have far-reaching ecological consequences. Therefore, plastic waste can have indirect effects on organisms, which may manifest at the community level.