The research – conducted by university graduate Hannah Parker, Dr Neil Crooks, Dr Angelo Pernetta – showed that ingested microplastics remained in the brain of the velvet swimming crab at more consistent levels than in other areas such as the stomach and gills.
The presence of microplastics in the brain has possible implications for a range of behaviours in the crab, including predator avoidance, foraging and reproduction.
The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.
After feeding mussels polystyrene fluorescent microplastic spheres, the researchers subsequently fed either one or three of the dosed mussels to velvet swimming crabs.
The stomach, gills, testes and brains of the crab were sampled one hour, one day, seven days and 21 days after the mussels were consumed. Microplastics were present in all tissues sampled.
In the crab’s stomach and gills there was a decrease in the amount of microplastics over time. The number of microplastics present in the brain, however, remained constant throughout the duration of the trial.
The study grew out of Hannah’s undergraduate final-year project at the university, supervised by Dr Crooks and Dr Pernetta. Dr Crooks and Dr Pernetta secured funding to perform the sample tests – which Hannah carried out in the summer after graduating – and, later, publish the research paper. Hannah won the university’s Environmental Award for her work.
Hannah said: “It's a bit surreal to know that my research is out in the world for others to read and reference but I'm thrilled. I really hope that it provides further knowledge on an important topic.”