Earthworms ingest microplastic fibres and nanoplastics with effects on egestion rate and long-term retention

Elma Lahive*, Richard Cross, Aafke I. Saarloos, Alice A. Horton, Claus Svendsen, Rudolf Hufenus, Denise M. Mitrano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Microplastic fibres (MPFs) and nanoplastics (NPs) have the potential to be hazardous to soil organisms. Understanding uptake into organisms is key in assessing these effects, but this is often limited by the analytical challenges to quantify smaller-sized plastics in complex matrices. This study used MPFs and NPs containing inorganic tracers (In, Pd) to quantify uptake in the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris. Following seven days exposure, tracer concentrations were measured in earthworms and faeces. Earthworms exposed to 500 μg MPFs/g soil retained an estimated 32 MPFs in their tissues, while at 5000 μg MPFs/g earthworms retained between 2 and 593 MPFs. High variation in body burdens of MPFs was linked to soil retention in earthworms and reduced faeces production, suggesting egestion was being affected by MPFs. NPs uptake and elimination was also assessed over a more extended time-period of 42 days. After 1 day, NPs were no longer detectable in faeces during the elimination phase. However, some retention of NPs in the earthworms was estimated, not linked to retained soil, indicating not all NPs were eliminated. MPFs and NPs uptake can be quantified in earthworms and both particle types can be retained beyond the depuration period, suggesting the potential for longer-term accumulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number151022
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date15 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Bioaccumulation
  • Lumbricus terrestris
  • Plastic
  • Soil
  • Terrestrial


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