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Integr Environ Assess Manag. 2017 May;13(3):505-509. doi: 10.1002/ieam.1907.

Trophic transfer of microplastics in aquatic ecosystems: Identifying critical research needs.

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Graduate Program in Environmental Toxicology, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA.
Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA.
Department of Biology, The Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA.


To evaluate the process of trophic transfer of microplastics, it is important to consider various abiotic and biotic factors involved in their ingestion, egestion, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification. Toward this end, a review of the literature on microplastics has been conducted to identify factors influencing their uptake and absorption; their residence times in organisms and bioaccumulation; the physical effects of their aggregation in gastrointestinal tracts; and their potential to act as vectors for the transfer of other contaminants. Limited field evidence from higher trophic level organisms in a variety of habitats suggests that trophic transfer of microplastics may be a common phenomenon and occurs concurrently with direct ingestion. Critical research needs include standardizing methods of field characterization of microplastics, quantifying uptake and depuration rates in organisms at different trophic levels, quantifying the influence that microplastics have on the uptake and/or depuration of environmental contaminants among different trophic levels, and investigating the potential for biomagnification of microplastic-associated chemicals. More integrated approaches involving computational modeling are required to fully assess trophic transfer of microplastics. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2017;13:505-509.


Microplastics; Polymer properties; Trophic transfer; Water quality

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