Passive biomonitoring of airborne microplastics using lichens: A comparison between urban, natural and protected environments

Taurozzi D., Gallitelli L., Cesarini G., Romano S., Orsini M. & Scalici M.
Environment International
187: 108707 [10 p.]
Currently, natural and urban ecosystems are affected by different types of atmospheric deposition, which can compromise the balance of the environment. Plastic pollution represents one of the major threats for biota, including lichens. Epiphytic lichens have value as bioindicators of environmental pollution, climate change, and anthropic impacts. In this study, we aim to investigate the lichen bioaccumulation of airborne microplastics along an anthropogenic pollution gradient. We sampled lichens from the Genera Cladonia and Xanthoria to highlight the effectiveness of lichens as tools for passive biomonitoring of microplastics. We chose three sites, a “natural site” in Altipiani di Arcinazzo, a “protected site” in Castelporziano Presidential estate and an “urban site” in the centre of Rome. Overall, we sampled 90 lichens, observed for external plastic entrapment, melt in oxygen peroxide and analysed for plastic entrapment. To validate the method, we calculated recovery rates of microplastics in lichen. Particularly, 253 MPs particles were detected across the 90 lichen samples: 97 % were fibers, and 3 % were fragments. A gradient in the number of microplastic fibers across the sites emerged, with increasing accumulation of microplastics from the natural site (n = 58) to the urban site (n = 116), with a direct relationship between the length and abundance of airborne microplastic fibers. Moreover, we detected the first evidences of airborne mesoplastics entrapped by lichens. On average, the natural site experienced the shortest fibre length and the centre of Rome the longest. No differences in microplastics accumulation emerged from the two genera. Our results indicated that lichens can effectively be used for passive biomonitoring of microplastic deposition. In this scenario, the role of lichens in entrapping microplastics and protecting pristine areas must be investigated. Furthermore, considering the impact that airborne microplastics can have on human health and the effectiveness of lichens as airborne microplastic bioindicators, their use is encouraged. Keywords: Mesoplastics; Pollution; Health; Urbanization; Ecological threat; Entrapment.
Monday, 20 May 2024 12:38