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Microplastic in terrestrial ecosystems

Concern about microplastics (plastic particles <5 mm) polluting different environmental compartments is mounting. Research has recently begun to embrace terrestrial systems, having initially focused at least a decade earlier on marine and aquatic ecosystems. The early research agenda on microplastics in both aquatic and terrestrial systems was mainly ecotoxicological. It included laboratory tests on individual organisms, often well-established test species, and also targeted selected soil properties and processes.

Such research is necessary to establish baseline mechanisms, which is important because microplastics differ from other pollutants. Many of their effects appear to be mediated by physical parameters, such as particle shape and size, rather than overt chemically mediated toxicity.

Moreover, their effects are mostly sublethal or even nominally positive. Although the study of other global change factors has tended to focus at the level of the ecosystem, research on microplastic is only now on the verge of this wider view.