Microplastics threaten the biodiversity of marine life Envirotech Online

New research at Queen’s University highlights the impact of microplastics on hermit crabs, which play an important role in the balance of the marine ecosystem.

Research has found that microplastics affect the behavior of hermit crabs, namely their ability during shellfighting, which is essential for their survival.

There is a strong association between hermit crabs and their shelters or shells, which are taken from marine snails to protect their soft abdomen. As the hermit crab grows over the years, it will need to find a succession of larger and larger shells to replace those that have become too small. They can achieve this through a contest, called shell combat, in which the “attacker” hits his shell against the “defender” in an attempt to expel the opponent from his shell. In these competitions, hermit crabs will fight a competitor to obtain the shell they prefer. These shells are vital for protecting and allowing hermit crabs to grow, reproduce and survive.

The new study builds on previous research from Queen’s University that showed hermit crabs were less likely to touch or enter high-quality shells when exposed to microplastics.

The new study provides insight into how hermit crab behavior is affected when exposed to microplastics. Microplastics alter both the attacking and defensive behavior of hermit crabs during competitions, hampering their ability to secure the larger shell necessary for their growth and survival.

The research consisted of keeping hermit crabs in two tanks: one containing polyethylene spheres (a common microplastic pollutant) and one without plastic (control) for five days. The team simulated the environment to encourage a hermit crab competition by placing pairs of hermit crabs in an arena, giving the larger crab a shell that’s too small and the smaller a shell that’s too big. Hermit crabs exposed to plastic exhibited weaker attacking behavior (called rapping) during combat than crabs that were not exposed to plastic. Microplastics also reduced the ability of defending crabs to properly assess their attackers during contests and compromised their decision to give up their shell earlier.

Hermit crabs are known as scavengers because they recycle energy in the ecosystem by eating marine life and decomposed bacteria. As such, they play a vital role in rebalancing the ecosystem and are an important part of marine life.

Manus Cunningham of Queen’s University and one of the lead investigators of the paper, said: “These results are extremely important because they illustrate how much information collection and assessments of the hulls have been altered when they are exposed to microplastics.

“Although 10% of the world’s plastic production ends up in the ocean, there is very little research on how it can disrupt animal behavior and cognition. This study shows how the microplastic pollution crisis threatens biodiversity more than currently thought.

Dr Gareth Arnott, principal investigator of the project, said: “This study provides insight into the potential of microplastics to alter important aspects of animal behavior that are essential for survival and reproduction. We need to further study how microplastics affect their behavior and consequences, armed with this knowledge to advocate for change to protect our ecosystem. ”

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