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Concept: Marine pollution


Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world’s oceans. Here we characterise and quantify a major ocean plastic accumulation zone formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45-129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported. We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1-3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area. Plastic collected during our study has specific characteristics such as small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the capacity to persist and accumulate at the surface of the GPGP. Finally, our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.

Concepts: Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Marine pollution, North Pacific Gyre, Project Kaisei


Imidacloprid is one of the most widely used insecticides in the world. Its concentration in surface water exceeds the water quality norms in many parts of the Netherlands. Several studies have demonstrated harmful effects of this neonicotinoid to a wide range of non-target species. Therefore we expected that surface water pollution with imidacloprid would negatively impact aquatic ecosystems. Availability of extensive monitoring data on the abundance of aquatic macro-invertebrate species, and on imidacloprid concentrations in surface water in the Netherlands enabled us to test this hypothesis. Our regression analysis showed a significant negative relationship (P<0.001) between macro-invertebrate abundance and imidacloprid concentration for all species pooled. A significant negative relationship was also found for the orders Amphipoda, Basommatophora, Diptera, Ephemeroptera and Isopoda, and for several species separately. The order Odonata had a negative relationship very close to the significance threshold of 0.05 (P = 0.051). However, in accordance with previous research, a positive relationship was found for the order Actinedida. We used the monitoring field data to test whether the existing three water quality norms for imidacloprid in the Netherlands are protective in real conditions. Our data show that macrofauna abundance drops sharply between 13 and 67 ng l(-1). For aquatic ecosystem protection, two of the norms are not protective at all while the strictest norm of 13 ng l(-1) (MTR) seems somewhat protective. In addition to the existing experimental evidence on the negative effects of imidacloprid on invertebrate life, our study, based on data from large-scale field monitoring during multiple years, shows that serious concern about the far-reaching consequences of the abundant use of imidacloprid for aquatic ecosystems is justified.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, Ecosystem, Aquatic ecology, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Marine pollution, Ecosystems


Environmental pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs, heavy metals, and organochlorine pesticides are a global threat to food safety. In particular, the aquatic biota can bioaccumulate many of these contaminants potentially making seafood of concern for chronic exposure to humans.

Concepts: Environment, Toxicology, Pollution, Salmon, Soil contamination, Atlantic salmon, Salmo, Marine pollution


Marine plastic pollution has been a growing concern for decades. Single-use plastics (plastic bags and microbeads) are a significant source of this pollution. Although research outlining environmental, social, and economic impacts of marine plastic pollution is growing, few studies have examined policy and legislative tools to reduce plastic pollution, particularly single-use plastics (plastic bags and microbeads). This paper reviews current international market-based strategies and policies to reduce plastic bags and microbeads. While policies to reduce microbeads began in 2014, interventions for plastic bags began much earlier in 1991. However, few studies have documented or measured the effectiveness of these reduction strategies. Recommendations to further reduce single-use plastic marine pollution include: (i) research to evaluate effectiveness of bans and levies to ensure policies are having positive impacts on marine environments; and (ii) education and outreach to reduce consumption of plastic bags and microbeads at source.

Concepts: Carbon, Pollution, Plastic, Policy, Marine pollution, Plastic recycling


Environmental pollution by pharmaceuticals is increasingly recognized as a major threat to aquatic ecosystems worldwide. A variety of pharmaceuticals enter waterways by way of treated wastewater effluents and remain biochemically active in aquatic systems. Several ecotoxicological studies have been done, but generally, little is known about the ecological effects of pharmaceuticals. Here we show that a benzodiazepine anxiolytic drug (oxazepam) alters behavior and feeding rate of wild European perch (Perca fluviatilis) at concentrations encountered in effluent-influenced surface waters. Individuals exposed to water with dilute drug concentrations (1.8 micrograms liter(-1)) exhibited increased activity, reduced sociality, and higher feeding rate. As such, our results show that anxiolytic drugs in surface waters alter animal behaviors that are known to have ecological and evolutionary consequences.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Biodiversity, Water, Ecosystem, Diazepam, Perch, Marine pollution, European perch


The past uranium/polymetallic mining activities in the Sudety (SW Poland) left abandoned mines, pits, and dumps of waste rocks with trace elements and radionuclides which may erode or leach out and create a potential risk for the aquatic ecosystem, among others. In the present work four rivers affected by effluents from such mines were selected to evaluate the application of aquatic mosses for the bioindication of 56 elements. Naturally growing F. antipyretica and P. riparioides were compared with transplanted samples of the same species. The results demonstrate serious pollution of the examined rivers, especially with As, Ba, Fe, Mn, Pb, Ti, U and Zn, reaching extremely high concentrations in native moss samples. In the most polluted rivers native F. antipyretica and P. riparioides samples showed significantly higher concentrations of As, Ba, Cu, Fe, La, Nd, Ni, Pb, U and Zn than corresponding transplanted samples, whereas at less polluted sites a reverse situation was sometimes observed. Transplanted moss moved from clean to extremely polluted rivers probably protects itself against the accumulation of toxic elements by reducing their uptake. Selection of native or transplanted F. antipyretica and P. riparioides depended on the pollution load.

Concepts: Iron, Uranium, Pollution, Trigraph, Mining, Moss, Marine pollution, Mosses


Microplastics are present in aquatic ecosystems the world over and may influence the feeding, growth, reproduction, and survival of freshwater and marine biota; however, the extent and magnitude of potential effects of microplastics on aquatic organisms is poorly understood. In the current study, we conducted a meta-analysis of published literature to examine impacts of exposure to microplastics on consumption (and feeding), growth, reproduction, and survival of fish and aquatic invertebrates. While we did observe within-taxa negative effects for all four categories of responses, many of the effects summarized in our study were neutral, indicating that the effects of exposure to microplastics are highly variable across taxa. The most consistent effect was a reduction in consumption of natural prey when microplastics were present. For some taxa, negative effects on growth, reproduction and even survival were also evident. Organisms that serve as prey to larger predators, e.g., zooplankton, may be particularly susceptible to negative impacts of exposure to microplastic pollution, with potential for ramifications throughout the food web. Future work should focus on whether microplastics may be affecting aquatic organisms more subtly, e.g., by influencing exposure to contaminants and pathogens, or by acting at a molecular level.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Life, Effect, Predation, Ecosystem, Aquatic ecology, Marine pollution


River ecosystems are among the most affected habitats globally by human activities, such as the release of chemical pollutants. However, it remains largely unknown how and to what extent many communities such as zooplankton are affected by these environmental stressors in river ecosystems. Here, we aim to determine major factors responsible for shaping community structure of zooplankton in heavily polluted river ecosystems. Specially, we use rotifers in the Haihe River Basin (HRB) in North China as a case study to test the hypothesis that species sorting (i.e. species are “filtered” by environmental factors and occur at environmental suitable sites) plays a key role in determining community structure at the basin level. Based on an analysis of 94 sites across the plain region of HRB, we found evidence that both local and regional factors could affect rotifer community structure. Interestingly, further analyses indicated that local factors played a more important role in determining community structure. Thus, our results support the species sorting hypothesis in highly polluted rivers, suggesting that local environmental constraints, such as environmental pollution caused by human activities, can be stronger than dispersal limitation caused by regional factors to shape local community structure of zooplankton at the basin level.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Environment, Eutrophication, People's Republic of China, Pollution, Environmentalism, Soil contamination, Marine pollution


Anthropogenically driven environmental changes affect our planet at an unprecedented scale and are considered to be a key threat to biodiversity. According to the World Health Organization, anthropogenic noise is one of the most hazardous forms of anthropogenically driven environmental change and is recognized as a major global pollutant. However, crucial advances in the rapidly emerging research on noise pollution focus exclusively on single aspects of noise pollution, e.g. on behaviour, physiology, terrestrial ecosystems, or on certain taxa. Given that more than two-thirds of our planet is covered with water, there is a pressing need to get a holistic understanding of the effects of anthropogenic noise in aquatic ecosystems. We found experimental evidence for negative effects of anthropogenic noise on an individual’s development, physiology, and/or behaviour in both invertebrates and vertebrates. We also found that species differ in their response to noise, and highlight the potential underlying mechanisms for these differences. Finally, we point out challenges in the study of aquatic noise pollution and provide directions for future research, which will enhance our understanding of this globally present pollutant.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Pollution, World Health Organization, Noise pollution, Aquatic ecosystem, Systems ecology, Marine pollution


Many microbial ecology studies have demonstrated profound changes in community composition caused by environmental pollution, as well as adaptation processes allowing survival of microbes in polluted ecosystems. Soil microbial communities in polluted areas with a long-term history of contamination have been shown to maintain their function by developing metal-tolerance mechanisms. In the present work, we review recent experiments, with specific emphasis on studies that have been conducted in polluted areas with a long-term history of contamination that also applied DNA-based approaches. We evaluate how the “costs” of adaptation to metals affect the responses of metal-tolerant communities to other stress factors (“stress-on-stress”). We discuss recent studies on the stability of microbial communities, in terms of resistance and resilience to additional stressors, focusing on metal pollution as the initial stress, and discuss possible factors influencing the functional and structural stability of microbial communities towards secondary stressors. There is increasing evidence that the history of environmental conditions and disturbance regimes play central roles in responses of microbial communities towards secondary stressors.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Environment, People's Republic of China, Pollution, Environmentalism, Soil contamination, Landfill, Marine pollution