Technical CommentsCHEMICAL ECOLOGY

Comment on “Marine plastic debris emits a keystone infochemical for olfactory foraging seabirds” by Savoca et al.

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Science Advances  28 Jun 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 6, e1700526
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700526

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In their recent paper, Savoca and collaborators (2016) showed that plastic debris in the ocean may acquire a dimethyl sulfide (DMS) signature from biofouling developing on their surface. According to them, DMS emission may represent an olfactory trap for foraging seabirds, which explains patterns of plastic ingestion among procellariiform seabirds. This hypothesis is appealing, but some of the data that Savoca et al. used to support their claim are questionable, resulting in a misclassification of species, as well as other decisions regarding the variables to include in their models. Furthermore, with their focus on a single lifestyle trait (nesting habit) of dubious relevance for explaining plastic ingestion, Savoca et al. neglect the opportunity to explore other factors that might provide better ecological insight. Finally, we are deeply concerned by the conservation policy recommendation proposed by Savoca et al.—to increase antifouling properties of consumer plastics—which constitutes a substantial environmental risk and delivers the wrong message to decision-makers. The reduction of plastic consumption, waste prevention, and proactive reuse through a circular economy should be at the heart of policy recommendations for future mitigation efforts.

  • seabirds
  • procellariiformes
  • plastic ingestion
  • DMS
  • dimethyl sulphide
  • olfaction

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