Modeling decreased resilience of shallow lake ecosystems towards eutrophication due to microplastic ingestion across the food web

Kong, X.; Koelmans, A.A.


The discovery of microplastic (MP) being present in freshwaters has stimulated research on the impacts of MP on freshwater organisms. To date, research has focused on primary effects, leaving questions with respect to secondary effects at the level of freshwater food webs, unanswered. Here, we use a theoretical modeling approach to investigate the hypothesis that MP impose negative impacts on the level of freshwater shallow lake food webs. We find that increasing MP levels have the potential to affect the critical phosphorus loading (CPL), which is defined as the threshold for regime shifts between clear and turbid states of the water column. The possible occurrence of catastrophic cascades due to MP pollution is predominantly driven by the negative effects of MP on zooplankton. We explore the possible states of the food web by scenario analysis and show that the secondary effects of MP at current concentrations are likely to be negligible. However, at the current rate of MP production, a 20 to 40% reduction in CPL would occur by the end of this century, suggesting a loss of resilience in shallow lakes that would be subject to abrupt changes in the food web under lower nutrient loading.