The European Regional Development Fund research project “Paleo-ecotoxicological approach to determine the impact of plastic particles on the functional and structural diversity of the freshwater crustacean group Cladocera” (project No. 220.127.116.11/ VIAA/2/18/359) concluded in September.
The research project of the European Regional Development Fund ended in September
The European Regional Development Fund research project “Paleo-ecotoxicological approach to determine the impact of plastic particles on the functional and structural diversity of the freshwater crustacean group Cladocera” (project No. 18.104.22.168/ VIAA/2/18/359) concluded in September. The scientific objective of the project was to determine the occurrence and abundance of microplastic particles in freshwater ecosystems from the beginning of the mass production of plastics in the 1940s to the present day and to assess the potential impact of microplastics on the functional and structural diversity of freshwater cornerstone crustacean.
For the first time microplastics were investigated in dated freshwater sediment boreholes using a new paleo-ecotoxicological method. The data obtained from the field study were verified experimentally in mesocosm studies. The project revealed an interesting phenomenon: microplastic particles accumulating in lake sediments do not remain in a specific temporal layer as is typical for particles of natural origin (dead plant and animal particles, sand grains, etc.). Instead microplastic particles move through the sediment layers, migrating deeper and deeper.
Consequently, microplastic particles are present in significant numbers not only from the 1940s onwards, but also in much older sediments, for example, from the 18th century, when plastics were not produced. The experimental part of the study found that plastics in the ecosystem have an impact on the structure of the food web. The addition of plastics to an aquatic ecosystem changes species diversity, abundance and dominance of functional groups.
The project also made an important contribution to the development of methodologies for processing microplastic samples. It was found that a significant amount of material is lost during the treatment process and solutions were proposed to estimate the amount of material lost.
In a separate work activity the fossil remains of microscopic crustacean shells were investigated, reconstructing past environmental conditions and revealing significant anthropogenic impacts on species communities and environmental conditions. The recharge of lake water decades ago with water from a nearby nutrient-rich lake has contributed to eutrophication, leading to a decline of environmental state of the lake. The practical benefits of the project include improved methodology for processing microplastic samples and the development of an expertise-based service.