Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Naples Federico II, via Università 100, 80055, Portici, Italy; Task Force on Microbiome Studies, University of Naples Federico II, Naples, Italy. Electronic address: [Email]
Cigarette butts (CBs) are the most common litter item on Earth but no long-term studies evaluate their fate and ecological effects. Here, the role of nitrogen (N) availability and microbiome composition on CBs decomposition were investigated by a 5-years experiment carried out without soil, in park grassland and sand dune. During decomposition, CBs chemical changes was assessed by both 13C CPMAS NMR and LC-MS, physical structure by scanning electron microscope and ecotoxicity by Aliivibrio fischeri and Raphidocelis subcapitata. Microbiota was investigated by high-throughput sequencing of bacterial and eukaryotic rRNA gene markers. CBs followed a three-step decomposition process: at the early stage (∼30 days) CBs lost ∼15.2% of their mass. During the subsequent two years CBs decomposed very slowly, taking thereafter different trajectories depending on N availability and microbiome composition. Without soil CBs showed minor chemical and morphological changes. Over grassland soil a consistent N transfer occurs that, after de-acetylation, promote CBs transformation into an amorphous material rich in aliphatic compounds. In sand dune we found a rich fungal microbiota able to decompose CBs, even before the occurrence of de-acetylation. CBs ecotoxicity was highest immediately after smoking. However, for R. subcapitata toxicity remained high after two and five years of decomposition.