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Impacts of Microplastics on the Soil Biophysical Environment
- de Souza Machado, Anderson Abel, Lau, Chung Wai, Till, Jennifer, Kloas, Werner, Lehmann, Anika, Becker, Roland, Rillig, Matthias C.
- Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.17 pp. 9656-9665
- anthropogenic stressors, biodiversity, bulk density, gardens, global change, hydraulic conductivity, loamy sand soils, microbial activity, plastics, polyamides, polyesters, soil aggregation, soil biota, soil pollution, soil structure, terrestrial ecosystems, water holding capacity
- Soils are essential components of terrestrial ecosystems that experience strong pollution pressure. Microplastic contamination of soils is being increasingly documented, with potential consequences for soil biodiversity and function. Notwithstanding, data on effects of such contaminants on fundamental properties potentially impacting soil biota are lacking. The present study explores the potential of microplastics to disturb vital relationships between soil and water, as well as its consequences for soil structure and microbial function. During a 5-weeks garden experiment we exposed a loamy sand soil to environmentally relevant nominal concentrations (up to 2%) of four common microplastic types (polyacrylic fibers, polyamide beads, polyester fibers, and polyethylene fragments). Then, we measured bulk density, water holding capacity, hydraulic conductivity, soil aggregation, and microbial activity. Microplastics affected the bulk density, water holding capacity, and the functional relationship between the microbial activity and water stable aggregates. The effects are underestimated if idiosyncrasies of particle type and concentrations are neglected, suggesting that purely qualitative environmental microplastic data might be of limited value for the assessment of effects in soil. If extended to other soils and plastic types, the processes unravelled here suggest that microplastics are relevant long-term anthropogenic stressors and drivers of global change in terrestrial ecosystems.