No evidence of microplastic ingestion in emperor penguin chicks (Aptenodytes forsteri) from the Atka Bay colony (Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica)

clara.leistenschneider [ at ]


Microplastic (<5 mm; MP) pollution has been an emerging threat for marine ecosystems around the globe with increasing evidence that even the world's most remote areas, including Antarctica, are no longer unaffected. Few studies however, have examined MP in Antarctic biota, and especially those from Antarctic regions with low human activity, meaning little is known about the extent to which biota are affected. The aim of this study was to investigate, for the first time, the occurrence of MP in the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), the only penguin species breeding around Antarctica during the austral winter, and an endemic apex predator in the Southern Ocean. To assess MP ingestion, the gizzards of 41 emperor penguin chicks from Atka Bay colony (Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica), were dissected and analyzed for MP >500 μm using Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier-transform Infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy. A total of 85 putative particles, mostly in the shape of fibers (65.9 %), were sorted. However, none of the particles were identified as MP applying state-of-the-art methodology. Sorted fibers were further evidenced to originate from contamination during sample processing and analyses. We find that MP concentrations in the local food web of the Weddell Sea and Dronning Maud Land coastal and marginal sea-ice regions; the feeding grounds to chick-rearing emperor penguin adults, are currently at such low levels that no detectable biomagnification is occurring via trophic transfer. Being in contrast to MP studies on other Antarctic and sub-Antarctic penguin species, our comparative discussion including these studies, highlights the importance for standardized procedures for sampling, sample processing and analyses to obtain comparable results. We further discuss other stomach contents and their potential role for MP detection, as well as providing a baseline for the long-term monitoring of MP in apex predator species from this region.

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Leistenschneider, C. , Le Bohec, C. , Eisen, O. , Houstin, A. , Neff, S. , Primpke, S. , Zitterbart, D. P. , Burkhardt-Holm, P. and Gerdts, G. (2022): No evidence of microplastic ingestion in emperor penguin chicks (Aptenodytes forsteri) from the Atka Bay colony (Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica) , Science of The Total Environment, 851 (Pt 2), p. 158314 . doi:

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