Ecotoxicological effects of polystyrene microbeads in a battery of marine organisms belonging to different trophic levels

Mar Environ Res. 2018 Oct;141:313-321. doi: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2018.09.023. Epub 2018 Sep 24.


The aim of this study was to detect ecotoxicological effects of 0.1 μm polystyrene microbeads in marine organisms belonging to different trophic levels. MP build up, lethal and sub-lethal responses were investigated in the bacterium Vibrio anguillarum (culturability), in the green microalga Dunaliella tertiolecta (growth inhibition), in the rotifer Brachionus plicatilis (mortality and swimming speed alteration) and in the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus (immobility and swimming speed alteration) exposed to a wide range of microplastic (MP) concentrations (from 0.001 to 10 mg L-1). Survival was not affected in all organisms up to 10 mg L-1, while algal growth inhibition, rotifer and sea urchin larvae swimming behaviour alterations were observed after exposure to MPs. Ingestion was only observed in rotifers and it was directly correlated with sub-lethal effects. These results account for the ecotoxicological risk associated to the polystyrene microbeads, which are able to affect different endpoints in primary producers and consumers (rotifers and sea urchins) since no effects were observed in decomposers. This study points out the importance of using a battery of marine organisms belonging to different trophic levels by studying acute toxicity of MPs at low and high contamination levels, and investigating sub-lethal responses. Further investigations aimed at studying the transfer of these materials through the web are particularly recommended.

Keywords: Bacteria; Marine invertebrate; Microalgae; Microplastics; Rotifers; Sea urchins; Sub-lethal endpoints; Toxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms*
  • Chlorophyta
  • Food Chain
  • Microspheres
  • Plastics / toxicity*
  • Polystyrenes / toxicity*
  • Rotifera
  • Sea Urchins
  • Solanaceae
  • Vibrio
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Plastics
  • Polystyrenes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical

Supplementary concepts

  • Vibrio anguillarum