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Polish research: Microplastics in birds’ digestive tracts

Polish research: Microplastics in birds' digestive tracts

Researchers from Bialystok examined the presence of microplastic particles in the digestive tracts of two species of birds: blackbirds and songbirds. Studies have shown that all animals tested contain microplastic particles in their digestive system.

This means that terrestrial ecosystems accumulate particles from packaging film and “consumable” plastics.

The results of the research conducted by the team d. Krzysztof Deoniziak from the Faculty of Biology at Białystok University has been published in Science of the Total Environment (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158621), the university reported. She emphasized that this is the first study in Poland on the consumption of plastic particles by birds.

Plastics include a wide variety of polymer-based synthetic materials that can be easily processed and shaped using heat. Thanks to these properties, it has been widely used in our everyday life since the 50s of the last century.

Scientists from Bialystok used birds that died as a result of collisions with buildings, noise barriers or high voltage lines. The birds were collected by team members and volunteers as part of environmental monitoring and citizen science projects in different places in Podlaskie Voivodeship. It turned out that all 16 blackbirds and 18 singers tested had microplastics in their digestive system.

The researchers observed a total of 1,073 microplastics, consisting mainly of fibers less than 1 mm in size. Most of the microplastics observed were transparent, which may indicate that they were derived from disposable products or a film used for packaging. An average of 40 microplastic particles were detected in each singer tested and 21 particles in the blackbird.

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The average number [cząstek] Therefore, the microplastics present in the gastrointestinal tract of thrush were higher than those demonstrated in any wild bird species previously studied, as well as higher than those reported for seabirds” – concludes Dr. Dionysiak.

In his opinion, this is not only evidence that machete and singers consume microplastics. The scientist concluded that “the high concentration of microplastics in the digestive system of both species indicates the ubiquity of microplastics in the ecosystems in which we ourselves live.”

As the biologist explained, plastics degrade under natural conditions into microscopic particles called microplastics (smaller than 5 mm in one dimension) and then into nanoplastics (smaller than 0.1 micrometers). These molecules gradually accumulate in the environment and are a problem for the organisms that live there, ranging from plants and small invertebrates to humans.

“It can make movement difficult and impossible, and if swallowed, it can cause damage and obstruction to the digestive system, which can lead to eating disorders or death” – explains Dr. Krzysztof Dionysiak.

It shows that toxic substances derived from microplastics and hazardous compounds adsorbed on their surfaces from the environment (eg DDT, PCB or heavy metals) reduce survival and growth rates, delay sexual maturation and reduce reproductive performance in different groups of animals.

“Most of the research on microplastics to date has been done in aquatic (freshwater and marine) ecosystems, but land pollution is expected to be much greater. After all, scientists have discovered the presence of microplastic particles in remote Antarctica or on glaciers in The Himalayas located at an altitude of 6500 meters above sea level. Current studies show that soil pollution is significant, microplastic particles have been detected in plants and various types of invertebrates and vertebrates “- enumerates the biologist.

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The scientist emphasizes the need to monitor the scale of microplastic pollution for different ecosystems and trophic levels. He believes that birds, occupying different ecological niches in diverse terrestrial environments – from natural areas to city centers, can serve as a model for the species.

In the research led by Dr. Deoniziak was attended by: Sławomir Niedźwiedzki from the Foundation for Glass Traps, Wojciech Pol – PhD student at the Department of Aquatic Ecology, Faculty of Biology, University of Białystok, and Alexandra Sischowska, who in July 2022 defended her master’s thesis at this faculty which she carried out as part of the research described.

PAP – Science in Poland

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