Research ArticleCHEMICAL ECOLOGY

Marine plastic debris emits a keystone infochemical for olfactory foraging seabirds

Science Advances  09 Nov 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 11, e1600395
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600395

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Abstract

Plastic debris is ingested by hundreds of species of organisms, from zooplankton to baleen whales, but how such a diversity of consumers can mistake plastic for their natural prey is largely unknown. The sensory mechanisms underlying plastic detection and consumption have rarely been examined within the context of sensory signals driving marine food web dynamics. We demonstrate experimentally that marine-seasoned microplastics produce a dimethyl sulfide (DMS) signature that is also a keystone odorant for natural trophic interactions. We further demonstrate a positive relationship between DMS responsiveness and plastic ingestion frequency using procellariiform seabirds as a model taxonomic group. Together, these results suggest that plastic debris emits the scent of a marine infochemical, creating an olfactory trap for susceptible marine wildlife.

Keywords
  • Chemical ecology
  • foraging ecology
  • marine pollution
  • plastic debris
  • conservation biology
  • sensory ecology
  • dimethyl sulfide

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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