Using the Asian clam as an indicator of microplastic pollution in freshwater ecosystems

Lei Su, Huiwen Cai, Prabhu Kolandhasamy, Chenxi Wu, Chelsea M Rochman, Huahong Shi
Environmental Pollution 2018, 234: 347-355
Bioindicators play an important role in understanding pollution levels, bioavailability and the ecological risks of contaminants. Several bioindicators have been suggested for understanding microplastic in the marine environment. A bioindicator for microplastics in the freshwater environment does not exist. In our previous studies, we found a high frequency of microplastic pollution in the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) in Taihu Lake, China. In the present study, we conducted a large-scale survey of microplastic pollution in Asian clams, water and sediment from 21 sites in the Middle-Lower Yangtze River Basin from August to October of 2016. The Asian clam was available in all sites, which included diverse freshwater systems such as lakes, rivers and estuaries. Microplastics were found at concentrations ranging from 0.3-4.9 items/g (or 0.4-5.0 items/individual) in clams, 0.5-3.1 items/L in water and 15-160 items/kg in sediment. Microfibers were the most dominant types of microplastics found, accounting for 60-100% in clams across all sampling sites. The size of microplastics ranged from 0.021-4.83 mm, and microplastics in the range of 0.25-1 mm were dominant. The abundance, size distribution and color patterns of microplastics in clams more closely resembled those in sediment than in water. Because microplastic pollution in the Asian clam reflected the variability of microplastic pollution in the freshwater environments, we demonstrated the Asian clam as an bioindicator of microplastic pollution in freshwater systems, particularly for sediments.

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