Scientists Say: Plastisphere

When an ecosystem exists on plastic, it gets a special name

plastic mask

These limpets have made their new home in an old plastic snorkel mask. They have become part of a plastisphere. 

Andrea Westmoreland/Wikimedia Commons

Plastisphere (noun, “PLAS-ti-sfeer”)

This is an ecosystem — a group of living organisms — that makes it home on or in plastic. Most of these organisms tend to be microbes and algae.

In a sentence

The plastic that can float for years on ocean currents will often pick up hitchhikers, creating a plastisphere of microbes and algae.

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Power Words

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ecosystem    A group of interacting living organisms — including microorganisms, plants and animals — and their physical environment within a particular climate. Examples include tropical reefs, rainforests, alpine meadows and polar tundra.

plastic    Any of a series of materials that are easily deformable; or synthetic materials that have been made from polymers (long strings of some building-block molecule) that tend to be lightweight, inexpensive and resistant to degradation.

plastisphere     An ecosystem that has evolved to live on plastic. The organisms in the plastisphere can include microbes and algae, but can also include animals such as mollusks that attach to plastic items. 

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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