Ana Martinez Rodriguez
Project title: Disentangling the direct and indirect effects of bioplastics on freshwater communities
Summary: Plastics are becoming increasingly prevalent in our daily life. The many applications and different functionalities these products make it inconceivable to live without them. However, increasing demand and poor management of plastics are responsible for the release of million tonnes of plastic into the natural environment every year.
Biodegradable bioplastics (BBPs) have emerged as a green solution to the current plastic pollution. These plastics are manufactured from natural sources and are supposed to degrade naturally. However, the fate and the impact of the end products of this biodegradation process in freshwater ecosystems is unknown. With more industries adopting these polymers as a sustainable product, their release to the environment will also increase, making it a priority to understand their impact on aquatic communities.
My PhD research aims to characterise the impact of biodegradable bioplastics on freshwater ecosystems. It will combine mesocosms and highly controlled laboratory experiments to determine: (1) the direct toxic effect these plastics have on key functional groups; (2) the indirect effect of these polymers on macroinvertebrates’ gut microflora; (3) the effect that biofilm formation on these particles has on its consumption by macroinvertebrates; (4) the effect BBPs have on the trophic niche of key functional groups; and (5) the transfer of BBPs though different food web compartments.