Currently up to 10 per cent of global plastic production ends up in the sea although the understanding of how this affects marine life is limited. The research, published in Biology Letters, focused on the impact of plastics on hermit crabs, which play an important role in balancing the marine ecosystem.
Hermit crabs do not develop their own shells but instead take shells from snails to protect their soft abdomens. As a hermit crab grows over the years, it will need to find a succession of larger and larger shells to replace the ones that have become too small. These shells are vital in protecting and enabling hermit crabs to grow, reproduce and survive.
The researchers found that when hermit crabs were exposed to microplastics, they were less likely to later touch or enter high-quality shells. Dr Gareth Arnott, lead researcher from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University, explains: “Our research shows that exposure to microplastics can have important effects on animal behaviour. More specifically, in this case it had a detrimental effect on shell selection behaviour in hermit crabs. As this behaviour is vital for hermit crab survival and reproduction, there could be important long-term consequences.” MORE