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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Microplastic Intake, Its Biotic Drivers, and Hydrophobic Organic Contaminant Levels in the Baltic Herring

Ogonowski, Martin; Wenman, Viktoria; Barth, Andreas; Hamacher-Barth, Evelyne; Danielsson, Sara; Gorokhova, Elena


It is commonly accepted that microplastic (MP) ingestion can lead to lower food intake and bioaccumulation of hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) in aquatic organisms. However, causal links between MP and contaminant levels in biota are poorly understood and in situ data are very limited. Here, we investigated whether HOC concentrations in herring muscle tissue (Clupea harengus membras) are related to MP ingestion using fish caught along the West coast of the Baltic Sea. The MP occurrence exhibited a large geographic variability, with MP found in 22.3% of the fish examined, and the population average being 0.9 MP ind(-1). However, when only individuals containing MP were considered, the average MP burden was 3.9 MP ind(-1). We also found that MP burden decreased with reproductive stage of the fish but increased with its body size. To predict MP abundance in fish guts, we constructed a mass-balance model using literature data on MP in the water column and physiological rates on ingestion and gut evacuation for clupeids of a similar size. The model output was in agreement with the observed values, thus supporting the validity of the results. Contaminant concentrations in the muscle tissue varied substantially across the study area but were unrelated to the MP levels in fish, suggesting a lack of direct links between the levels of HOCs and MP ingestion. Thus, despite their ubiquity, MP are unlikely to have a measurable impact on food intake or the total body burden of hydrophobic contaminants in Baltic herring.


microplastic; Baltic sea; herring; hydrophobic organic contaminants; marine monitoring

Published in

Frontiers in Environmental Science
2019, volume: 7, article number: 134

Authors' information

Stockholm University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources
AquaBiota Water Research
Wenman, Viktoria
Stockholm University
Barth, Andreas
Stockholm University
Hamacher-Barth, Evelyne
Stockholm University
Danielsson, Sara
Swedish Museum of Natural History
Gorokhova, Elena
Stockholm University

UKÄ Subject classification

Analytical Chemistry
Environmental Sciences

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