My name is Emily Dempster and I am currently in my final year of my Zoology MSci at University of Sussex and have been working on this research for the past year for my final project. I have volunteered with the Mammal Society for the last 18 months on a number of projects and am now hoping to extend the #PlasticInMammals project to become my PhD focus.
Plastic pollution has widespread impacts on the natural world, to this point the focus of research has been marine ecosystems. This has meant that little to no focus has been given to terrestrial ecosystems across the global. In a recent study the EU suggested that 4.8-12.7 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year although 275 million tons of plastic are produced (Plastics Europe, 2019) . Currently relatively small numbers of plastics are actually being recycled which means that a vast quantity of it is ending up in land fills, and littering our national parks, local parks and streets. Because of this the chance for small British mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, hedgehogs and rabbits which are looked at in this study our at great risk of coming into contact with micro plastics. Furthermore, these species may be increasing the rate in which micro plastics are entering the terrestrial ecosystems by chewing and breaking plastic looking for food or nesting material.
My research project
Through using Longworth trapping performed by myself and volunteers across the country, rescue centres and universities droppings have been collected. By looking at dropping samples from mice, voles, shrews, hedgehogs and rabbits this will allow me to establish if these mammals are coming into contact and ultimately ingesting micro plastics. This is important to understand as these species enable us to understand the health of our ecosystems. Furthermore as hedgehogs and many of these small rodents are in severe decline this study will allow us to not only understand whether they are ingesting plastic but through a questionnaire aimed at rescue centres and hedgehog rehabilitation facilities how often they become entangled in plastic waste e.g garden mesh or bin bags. This research also has an impact on many other species such as foxes, weasels, barn owls and kestrels if there is found to be micro plastics in their prey it would suggest there is plastic in the predator. I have started on the samples and I have currently processed 50 samples and found a possible 10 that have micro plastics in it.
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Plastics Europe (2019) Plastics – the Facts 2019. Available at: https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/resources/market-data.