29 Apr 2020 - Fears pollution affecting cognition as crabs exposed to polyethylene struggle to select good homes.
“Usually a so-called ‘normal’ hermit crab will always want to go for the better shell,” said Dr Gareth Arnott, co-author of the new research from Queen’s University Belfast, adding such shells are typically those of sea snails.
“The striking thing in this study was when [we offered them a better shell], lots of the crabs that had been exposed to the microplastics didn’t make the optimal decision to take [it],” he said.
Microplastics – pieces of plastic 5mm or smaller – are a growing subject of research, with previous studies showing they are present even in the depths of the ocean and are ending up in the bodies of living organisms, from seals to crabs and seabirds.
However, while there is some evidence that exposure to such pollution has affected growth and reproduction in some animals, research into specific effects on animal behaviour and cognition remains scarce.