Front Plant Sci. 2022 Dec 8;13:1075007. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2022.1075007. eCollection 2022.
Contamination of soils by microplastics can have profound ecological impacts on terrestrial ecosystems and has received increasing attention. However, few studies have considered the impacts of soil microplastics on plant communities and none has tested the impacts of spatial heterogeneity in the horizontal distribution of microplastics in the soil on plant communities. We grew experimental plant communities in soils with either a homogeneous or a heterogeneous distribution of each of six common microplastics, i.e., polystyrene foam (EPS), polyethylene fiber (PET), polyethylene bead (HDPE), polypropylene fiber (PP), polylactic bead (PLA) and polyamide bead (PA6). The heterogeneous treatment consisted of two soil patches without microplastics and two with a higher (0.2%) concentration of microplastics, and the homogeneous treatment consisted of four patches all with a lower (0.1%) concentration of microplastics. Thus, the total amounts of microplastics in the soils were exactly the same in the two treatments. Total and root biomass of the plant communities were significantly higher in the homogeneous than in the heterogeneous treatment when the microplastic was PET and PP, smaller when it was PLA, but not different when it was EPS, HDPE or PA6. In the heterogeneous treatment, total and root biomass were significantly smaller in the patches with than without microplastics when the microplastic was EPS, but greater when the microplastic was PET or PP. Additionally, in the heterogeneous treatment, root biomass was significantly smaller in the patches with than without microplastics when the microplastic was HDPE, and shoot biomass was also significantly smaller when the microplastic was EPS or PET. The heterogeneous distribution of EPS in the soil significantly decreased community evenness, but the heterogeneous distribution of PET increased it. We conclude that soil heterogeneity in the horizontal distribution of microplastics can influence productivity and species composition of plant communities, but such an effect varies depending on microplastic chemical composition (types) and morphology (shapes).