Gross Negligence: Impacts of Microplastics and Plastic Leachates on Phytoplankton Community and Ecosystem Dynamics

C. Amaneesh, Shankari Anna Balan, P.S. Silpa, Ji Won Kim, Kozhumal Greeshma, A. Aswathi Mohan, Aiswarya Robert Antony, Hans Peter Grossart, Hee Sik Kim, Rishiram Ramanan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Plastic debris is an established environmental menace affecting aquatic systems globally. Recently, microplastics (MP) and plastic leachates (PL) have been detected in vital human organs, the vascular system, and in vitro animal studies positing severe health hazards. MP and PL have been found in every conceivable aquatic ecosystem─from open oceans and deep sea floors to supposedly pristine glacier lakes and snow covered mountain catchment sites. Many studies have documented the MP and PL impacts on a variety of aquatic organisms, whereby some exclusively focus on aquatic microorganisms. Yet, the specific MP and PL impacts on primary producers have not been systematically analyzed. Therefore, this review focuses on the threats posed by MP, PL, and associated chemicals on phytoplankton, their comprehensive impacts at organismal, community, and ecosystem scales, and their endogenous amelioration. Studies on MP- and PL-impacted individual phytoplankton species reveal the production of reactive oxygen species, lipid peroxidation, physical damage of thylakoids, and other physiological and metabolic changes, followed by homo- and heteroaggregations, ultimately eventuating in decreased photosynthesis and primary productivity. Likewise, analyses of the microbial community in the plastisphere show a radically different profile compared to the surrounding planktonic diversity. The plastisphere also enriches multidrug-resistant bacteria, cyanotoxins, and pollutants, accelerating microbial succession, changing the microbiome, and thus, affecting phytoplankton diversity and evolution. These impacts on cellular and community scales manifest in changed ecosystem dynamics with widespread bottom-up and top-down effects on aquatic biodiversity and food web interactions. These adverse effects─through altered nutrient cycling─have “knock-on” impacts on biogeochemical cycles and greenhouse gases. Consequently, these impacts affect provisioning and regulating ecosystem services. Our citation network analyses (CNA) further demonstrate dire effects of MP and PL on all trophic levels, thereby unsettling ecosystem stability and services. CNA points to several emerging nodes indicating combined toxicity of MP, PL, and their associated hazards on phytoplankton. Taken together, our study shows that ecotoxicity of plastic particles and their leachates have placed primary producers and some aquatic ecosystems in peril.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-24
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2023


  • Algae
  • Aquatic Ecosystems
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Cyanotoxins
  • Ecocorona
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Pathogens
  • Plastics
  • Plastisphere
  • Pollutants
  • Primary Producers


Dive into the research topics of 'Gross Negligence: Impacts of Microplastics and Plastic Leachates on Phytoplankton Community and Ecosystem Dynamics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this