Microplastics do not affect the feeding rates of a marine predator

Eoghan M. Cunningham*, Ross N. Cuthbert, Neil E. Coughlan, Louise Kregting, Victoria Cairnduff, Jaimie T.A. Dick

*Corresponding author for this work

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Microplastics may affect the physiology, behaviour and populations of aquatic and terrestrial fauna through many mechanisms, such as direct consumption and sensory disruption. However, the majority of experimental studies have employed questionably high dosages of microplastics that have little environmental relevance. Predation, in particular, is a key trophic interaction that structures populations and communities and influences ecosystem functioning, but rarely features in microplastic research. Here, we quantify the effects of low (~65-114 MP/L) and high (~650-1140 MP/L) microplastic concentrations on the feeding behaviour of a ubiquitous and globally representative key marine predator, the shore crab, Carcinus maenas. We used a functional response approach (predator consumption across prey densities) to determine crab consumption rates towards a key marine community prey species, the blue mussel Mytilus edulis, under low and high microplastic concentrations with acute (8h) and chronic (120h) microplastic exposure times. For both the acute and chronic microplastic exposure experiments, proportional prey consumption by crabs did not differ with respect to microplastic concentration, but significantly decreased over increasing prey densities. The crabs thus displayed classical, hyperbolic Type II functional responses in all experimental groups, characterised by high consumption rates at low prey densities. Crab attack rates, handling times and maximum feeding rates (i.e. functional response curves) were not significantly altered under lower or higher microplastics concentrations, or by acute or chronic microplastic exposures. Here, we show that functional response analyses could be widely employed to ascertain microplastic impacts on consumer-resource interactions. Furthermore, we suggest that future studies should adopt both acute and chronic microplastic exposure regimes, using environmentally-relevant microplastic dosages and types as well as elevated future scenarios of microplastic concentrations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number146487
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date17 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2021


  • Animal behaviour
  • Blue mussel
  • Functional response
  • Pollutants
  • Shore crab
  • Synthetic polymers


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