The Behavior of Planktonic Copepods Minimizes the Entry of Microplastics in Marine Food Webs

Rocío Rodríguez Torres*, Rodrigo Almeda, Jiayi Xu*, Nanna Hartmann, Sinja Rist, Philipp Brun, Torkel Gissel Nielsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The entry of microplastics (MPs) into marine food webs is a major environmental concern. We investigated how the behavior of planktonic copepods influences the risk of MPs to enter marine food webs by applying a trait-based approach and by combining experiments (bottle incubations and video observations) with biogeographical analyses. We aimed to evaluate which type of feeding behavior is most risky in terms of MP ingestion and which marine geographical areas are more susceptible to MP ingestion by planktonic copepods. We used different species as models of the main foraging behaviors in planktonic copepods: feeding-current, cruising, ambush, and mixed behavior feeding. All behaviors showed a similarly low risk of MP ingestion, up to 1 order of magnitude lower than for similar-sized microalgae. We did not observe any influence of the prey type or MP size (8 and 20 μm) on MP ingestion for any of the behaviors. By mapping the global distribution of feeding behaviors, we showed that feeding-current feeding is the most common behavior, but the risk of MP ingestion remains equally low across the global ocean, independently of the predominant behavior. Overall, our results suggest a low risk of MP ingestion by planktonic copepods and therefore a minimal risk of trophic transfer of MPs via marine pelagic copepods in marine ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Microplastics
  • Copepods
  • Trait-based approach
  • Feeding behavior
  • Ingestion


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