Project title: Biodegradable plastics and their influence on microbial communities at the fresh/saltwater interface
Summary: The biggest advantage of plastics, being durable, is also their biggest problem. It builds up in the environment as their durability outweighs their intended service life. To address this problem, biodegradable plastics (BPs) emerged in the early 1980s. Given that their production has since been increasing exponentially, 2.1 million manufactured in 2019, it is expected that their input into aquatic environments augments too. Studies have shown how plastics biofouling may affect their densities, and therefore their fate into the environment. Microbial communities (MCs) on plastics might also be composed of harmful pathogens using plastics as a vector. Furthermore, plastics may alter biogeochemical cycles by changing surroundings MCs. Hence, investigating microbial communities associated with these new plastics is a key issue to assessing their fate and ecological impact. Whilst plastics accumulation is well documented, knowledge about their impact on MCs is scanty, with even smaller attention being devoted to BPs.
The aim of this PhD research is to look at the MCs associated with BPs in freshwater and estuarine systems. Aspects such as microbial diversity, metabolism, mode of life (biofilm or suspended), the impact on biogeochemical cycles and ecosystem services and how the communities evolve overtime, across salinity gradient, oxygenated levels or even different habitats will be revealed using field sampling, mesocosms and microcosms experiments and compared with standard plastics.