Exploring microplastic pollution in a Mediterranean river: The role of introduced species as bioindicators

Elsevier, Heliyon, Volume 9, April 2023
Koutsikos N., Koi A.M., Zeri C., Tsangaris C., Dimitriou E., Kalantzi O.-I.

Studies of plastic contamination in freshwater ecosystems and their biota remain scarce, despite the fact that the vast majority of plastic waste initially passes through lotic ecosystems. Biomonitoring provides valuable information regarding plastic pollution and microplastic threats to biota and human health. The aim of this study was to explore the potential use of a non-indigenous fish species as a bioindicator of microplastic pollution in an Eastern Mediterranean River. Our study area is located in a heavily modified and vastly impacted urban river which flows through the largest part of the Metropolitan area of Athens, Greece. We used an introduced chub species (Squalius vardarensis) to assess microplastic ingestion in the river. The results indicated moderate occurrence and abundance of microplastics in the fish gastrointestinal tracts; one-third of specimens (35%) contained microplastics, although the average number of microplastics per specimen was relatively low (1.7 ± 0.2). Overall, the abundance of microplastics in the water confirmed the moderate level of microplastics contamination in our study area. The major polymer types of microplastics identified by FT-IR analysis were: polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and polypropylene (PP); reflecting the fragmentation of larger litter from industrial packaging and/or household goods. Surface runoff of the urban environment, via motorways and major road networks, could be the contributing factor to the reported microplastics. Our results suggest that generalist's non-indigenous species such as chubs could be used as bioindicators of microplastics in inland waters. Introduced fishes can be a feasible, nondestructive, and cost-effective option for the assessment of microplastics in freshwater ecosystems, while freshwater chubs' high abundance and omnipresence in European rivers further serve this scope. However, it is worth noting that the suitability of any particular species as a bioindicator of microplastics may depend on a variety of factors, including their feeding behavior, habitat, and exposure to microplastics in their environment.