Scientists predict threats to animals from plastics

A team of scientists has for the first time developed a way of predicting the size of plastics different animals are likely to ingest. The research could help measure the risk of plastic pollution to ecosystems and food supplies.

The researchers from Cardiff University looked at the gut contents of more than 2,000 animals to create a simple equation to predict the size of a plastic item an animal can eat, based on the length of its body.

In the study, they report that the length of an animal can be used to estimate the biggest piece of plastic it can eat – and this was about five per cent of the size of the animal, according to a statement.

The researchers say that as the plastic pollution problem escalates, it is vital to be able to quickly assess the risk of plastics to different species around the world. This work could also help scientists measure the risk of plastic pollution to ecosystems and food supplies – and ultimately the risk to human health.

Co-lead author of the study Dr Ifan Jâms said in the statement: “We still know very little about the way most animals feed in the wild, so it’s difficult to figure out how much plastic they could be eating. We hope this study lays a foundation for including the ‘ingestibility’ of plastics into global risk assessments.”

Project leader Professor Isabelle Durance added: “While we understand increasingly where concentrations of plastic in the world’s aquatic ecosystems are greatest, it’s only through work like this that we can know which animals are likely to be in danger from ingesting it.

“Through this work, we can also begin to understand how much plastic is entering global food webs or human foods, for example, because we know the general sizes of plastic likely to be taken in by zooplankton or fishes.”

Image credit: Richard Fisher, flickr/Creative Commons

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