Microplastic pollution alters forest soil microbiome

Ee Ling Ng*, Silk Yu Lin, Ashley M. Dungan, John M. Colwell, Sarah Ede, Esperanza Huerta Lwanga, Ke Meng, Violette Geissen, Linda Louise Blackall, Deli Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)


The impact of microplastic pollution on terrestrial biota is an emerging research area, and this is particularly so for soil biota. In this study, we addressed this knowledge gap by examining the impact of aged low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polyester fibres (i.e. polyethylene terephthalate, PET) on a forest microbiome composition and activity. We also measured the corresponding physicochemical changes in the soil. We observed that bacteria community composition diverged in PET and LDPE treated soils from that of the control by day 42. These changes occurred at 0.2% and 0.4% (w/w) of PET and at 3% LDPE. Additionally, soil respiration was 8-fold higher in soil that received 3% LDPE compared to other treatments and control. There were no clear patterns linking these biological changes to physicochemical changes measured. Taken together, we concluded that microplastics aging in the environment may have evolutionary consequences for forest soil microbiome and there is immediate implication for climate change if the observed increase in soil respiration is reproducible in multiple ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124606
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Early online date18 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2021


  • Low-density polyethylene
  • Polyester fibres
  • Polyethylene terephthalate
  • Soil bacteria composition
  • Soil physical properties
  • Soil respiration


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