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Microplastic ingestion rates are phenotype-dependent in juvenile anemonefish

Nanninga, Gerrit B., Scott, Anna, Manica, Andrea
Environmental pollution 2020 v.259 pp. 113855
Amphiprion ocellaris, fish, invertebrates, juveniles, microparticles, microplastics, phenotypic variation, polyethylene
The potential influence of microplastic debris on marine organisms is an issue of great ecological and socioeconomic concern. Experiments exposing fishes and invertebrates to constant concentrations of microplastics often yield high variation in particle ingestion rates among individuals. Yet, despite an increasing interest in microplastic ingestion in the wild, the potential intrinsic drivers of inter-individual variation have received little attention so far. Here we assessed individual-level ingestion of Polyethylene microspheres by laboratory-reared juvenile anemonefish, Amphiprion ocellaris, in relation to (a) ambient particle concentrations and (b) repeatable behavioural traits. We show that microplastic ingestion is highly variable at all tested particle concentrations and that this variation can partially be explained by individual activity levels. Moreover, the relationship between ingestion and behavioural variation increased notably when only the most behaviourally consistent individuals (n = 40 out of 60) were considered in the analysis. Our findings indicate that microplastic ingestion rates in juvenile reef fishes may be less dependent on ambient concentrations than expected; instead they are to some degree phenotype-dependent. Care should thus be taken when reporting mean responses to microplastic exposure treatments, because some individuals may not be affected in the same way as others due to differential ingestion behaviour. We also discuss potential ramifications of non-random ingestion variability on population- and community-level responses.