Research Press Release

Environment: Microplastic consumption may alter seabird gut microbiomes

Nature Ecology & Evolution

March 28, 2023

Seabirds that have ingested high levels of microplastic debris from their environment may have altered gut microbiomes — including an increase in some pathogens, as well as antibiotic-resistant and plastic-degrading microbes — suggests a Nature Ecology & Evolution paper. The findings highlight the potential health effects of microplastic ingestion on seabirds.

Wild seabirds often have large-scale migration routes and are known to ingest microplastics debris. Plastic pollution, particularly in marine environments, has previously been found to negatively affect animals in several ways, such as by altering their gut microbiomes. However, this effect has not yet been documented in wild birds, and the potential effects of microplastic consumption on their microbiomes remains unclear.

Gloria Fackelmann and colleagues examined the gut microbiomes and gut plastic content of two species of seabird (58 Cory’s shearwaters and 27 northern fulmars) sampled in the North Atlantic. They investigated correlations between levels of microplastic consumption and the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome, and found that high levels of microplastic consumption were associated with changes to gut microbiome composition (among other effects). Individuals with higher levels of plastic consumption had more species diversity in the microbiome, with more potentially harmful species. The findings suggest that plastic consumption could potentially lead to gut dysbiosis (in which the gut microbiome becomes dominated by harmful microbes) and may affect the health of wild seabirds.


Return to research highlights

PrivacyMark System