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de Souza Machado, Anderson Abel; Lau, Chung Wai ; Kloas, Werner; Bergmann, Joana ; Bachelier, Julien; Faltin, Erik; Becker, Roland; Görlich, Anna ; Rillig, Matthias C.

Microplastics can change soil properties and affect plant performance

News from May 16, 2019

Congratulations to Abek for his latest publication on the effects of microplastics in soil on plant growth performance recently accepted in "Environmental Science & Technology", which is now in Open Access and downloadable at:



Microplastics can affect biophysical properties of the soil. However, little is known about the cascade of events in fundamental levels of terrestrial ecosystems, i.e., starting with the changes in soil abiotic properties and propagating across the various components of soil–plant interactions, including soil microbial communities and plant traits. We investigated here the effects of six different microplastics (polyester fibers, polyamide beads, and four fragment types: polyethylene, polyester terephthalate, polypropylene, and polystyrene) on a broad suite of proxies for soil health and performance of spring onion (Allium fistulosum). Significant changes were observed in plant biomass, tissue elemental composition, root traits, and soil microbial activities. These plant and soil responses to microplastic exposure were used to propose a causal model for the mechanism of the effects. Impacts were dependent on particle type, i.e., microplastics with a shape similar to other natural soil particles elicited smaller differences from control. Changes in soil structure and water dynamics may explain the observed results in which polyester fibers and polyamide beads triggered the most pronounced impacts on plant traits and function. The findings reported here imply that the pervasive microplastic contamination in soil may have consequences for plant performance and thus for agroecosystems and terrestrial biodiversity.

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