Exploring the impacts of plastics in soil – The effects of polyester textile fibers on soil invertebrates

Salla Selonen*, Andraž Dolar, Anita Jemec Kokalj, Tina Skalar, Lidia Parramon Dolcet, Rachel Hurley, Cornelis A.M. van Gestel

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Polyester fiber is one of the most abundant types of microplastics in the environment. A major proportion of the fibers entering wastewater treatment plants end up in sewage sludge, which is used as a soil fertilizer in many countries. As their impacts in the terrestrial environment are still poorly understood, we studied the effects of polyester fibers on enchytraeids (Enchytraeus crypticus), springtails (Folsomia candida), isopods (Porcellio scaber) and oribatid mites (Oppia nitens), all playing an important role in soil decomposer food webs. We exposed these invertebrates in the laboratory to short (12 µm–2.87 mm) and long (4–24 mm) polyester fibers, spiked in soil or in food at five concentrations ranging from 0.02% to 1.5% (w/w) and using five replicates. Overall the effects of polyester fibers on the soil invertebrates were slight. Energy reserves of the isopods were slightly affected by both fiber types, and enchytraeid reproduction decreased up to 30% with increasing fiber concentration, but only for long fibers in soil. The low ingestion of long fibers by the enchytraeids suggests that this negative impact arose from a physical harm outside the organism, or from indirect effects resulting from changes in environmental conditions. The short fibers were clearly ingested by enchytraeids and isopods, with the rate of ingestion positively related to fiber concentration in the soil. This study shows that polyester fibers are not very harmful to soil invertebrates upon short-term exposure. However, longer lasting, multigeneration studies with functional endpoints are needed to reveal the possible long-term effects on soil invertebrates and their role in the decomposition process. This study also shows that polyester fibers can enter terrestrial food web via ingestion of fibers by soil invertebrates.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number134451
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Early online date4 Oct 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2020


    This work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) [grant number ALWWW.2016.2 ] and the Research Council of Norway [grant number 271825/E50], in the frame of the collaborative international Consortium (IMPASSE) financed under the ERA-NET WaterWorks2015 Cofunded Call. This ERA-NET is an integral part of the 2016 Joint Activities developed by the Water Challenges for a Changing World Joint Programme Initiative (Water JPI); Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation; Slovenian Research Agency (ARRS), through research programmes: Integrative zoology and speleobiology [grant number P1-0184], the infrastructural center Microscopy of biological samples and funding scheme for postgraduate research (Andraž Dolar). Appendix A

    FundersFunder number
    Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk OnderzoekALWWW.2016.2
    Maj ja Tor Nesslingin Säätiö
    Javna Agencija za Raziskovalno Dejavnost RSP1-0184
    Norges forskningsråd271825/E50


      • Enchytraeid
      • Isopod
      • Microplastic
      • Polyester fibres
      • Soil ecotoxicology
      • Springtail


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