Biofilm and diatom succession on Polyethylene (PE) and biodegradable plastic bags in two marine habitats: Early signs of degradation in the pelagic and benthic zone?

Andreas Eich, Tobias Mildenberger, Christian Laforsch, Miriam Weber

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The production of biodegradable plastic is increasing. Given the augmented littering of these products an increasing input into the sea is expected. Previous laboratory experiments have shown that degradation of plastic starts within days to weeks. Little is known about the early composition and activity of biofilms found on biodegradable and conventional plastic debris and its correlation to degradation in the marine environment. In this study we investigated the early formation of biofilms on plastic shopper bags and its consequences for the degradation of plastic. Samples of polyethylene and biodegradable plastic were tested in the Mediterranean Sea for 15 and 33 days. The samples were distributed equally to a shallow benthic (sedimentary seafloor at 6 m water depth) and a pelagic habitat (3 m water depth) to compare the impact of these different environments on fouling and degradation. The amount of biofilm increased on both plastic types and in both habitats. The diatom abundance and diversity differed significantly between the habitats and the plastic types. Diatoms were more abundant on samples from the pelagic zone. We anticipate that specific surface properties of the polymer types induced different biofilm communities on both plastic types. Additionally, different environmental conditions between the benthic and pelagic experimental site such as light intensity and shear forces may have influenced unequal colonisation between these habitats. The oxygen production rate was negative for all samples, indicating that the initial biofilm on marine plastic litter consumes oxygen, regardless of the plastic type or if exposed in the pelagic or the benthic zone. Mechanical tests did not reveal degradation within one month of exposure. However, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis displayed potential signs of degradation on the plastic surface, which differed between both plastic types. This study indicates that the early biofilm formation and composition are affected by the plastic type and habitat. Further, it reveals that already within two weeks biodegradable plastic shows signs of degradation in the benthic and pelagic habitat.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0137201
JournalP L o S One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright: © 2015 Eich et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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