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No short-term effect of sinking microplastics on heterotrophy or sediment clearing in the tropical coral Stylophora pistillata

Citation

Bejarano, Sonia et al. (2022), No short-term effect of sinking microplastics on heterotrophy or sediment clearing in the tropical coral Stylophora pistillata, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.ngf1vhht8

Abstract

Investigations of encounters between corals and microplastics have, to date, used particle concentrations that are several orders of magnitude above environmentally relevant levels. Here we investigate whether concentrations closer to values reported in tropical coral reefs affect sediment shedding and heterotrophy in reef-building corals. We show that single-pulse microplastic deposition elicits significantly more coral polyp retraction than comparable amounts of calcareous sediments. When deposited separately from sediments, microplastics remain longer on corals than sediments, through stronger adhesion and longer periods of examination by the coral polyps. Contamination of sediments with microplastics does not retard corals’ sediment clearing rates. Rather, sediments speed-up microplastic shedding, possibly affecting its electrostatic behaviour. Heterotrophy rates are three times higher than microplastic ingestion rates when corals encounter microzooplankton (Artemia salina cysts) and microplastics separately. Exposed to cysts-microplastic combinations, corals feed preferentially on cysts regardless of microplastic concentration. Chronic-exposure experiments should test whether our conclusions hold true under environmental conditions typical of inshore marginal coral reefs.