What is it about?

We explain patterns of microplastic and man-made fibre pollution across Europe's lakes. We predicted where microparticles accumulate based on public land use data and an existing computer model that considers local hydrology, population density, and waste production. We found microparticle concentrations doubled as forest cover declined in surrounding catchments, and concentrations increased about four-times across the range of processing volumes by nearby wastewater treatment works. We also found concentrations decreased five-times in lakes with more active microbial communities, suggesting that some naturally occurring species can help remove microparticle pollution. We compared our data to >2100 similar net trawls that we compiled from past studies and found that microparticle concentrations in Europe’s lakes were higher than in past studies of lakes and similar to oceans and rivers.

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Why is it important?

Pollution from microplastics and anthropogenic fibres threatens lakes, but we know little about what factors predict its accumulation. Predicting where anthropogenic debris accumulates is necessary for its control and environmental remediation. This work helps identify hotspots of microparticle pollution based on surrounding land use and water quality to help prioritise monitoring and remediation of the world's lakes. The work also suggests that some naturally occurring species can help remove microparticle pollution, but studies are needed to isolate microorganisms from the natural environment and test their ability to degrade microplastics and fibres.

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This page is a summary of: Microplastics and anthropogenic fibre concentrations in lakes reflect surrounding land use, PLoS Biology, September 2021, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001389.
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