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Plastic Consumption in Burrow-Nesting Seabirds


Albatross with plastic FILEminimizer

Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS) the “Dinnerbell”

Research conducted at the University of California offers new evidence as to why burrow-nesting seabirds are driven to consume plastic. During these studies, scientists began to focus on DMS, a highly sulfuric infochemical formed during the enzymatic breakdown of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) in marine phytoplankton. Scientists noted that in pelagic ecosystems, the amount of DMS increases while zooplankton are grazing on phytoplankton, which in turn triggers foraging responses throughout the marine food chain.

Marine Exposure on Plastic

Through a series of analyses, scientists tested the sulfur signature of the three most common types of plastic beads before and after marine exposure: high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP). Using solid-phase microextraction (SPME), gas chromatography (GC), and a sulfur chemiluminescence detector (SCD), scientists concluded that plastics that weren’t exposed to saltwater had no DMS (sulfuric) signature; however, a DMS signature was detected on every sample that had been exposed to saltwater for 1 month.

Plastic Ingestion in Seabirds

Scientists began to compare plastic ingestion in seabirds that are DMS-responsive and seabirds that are nonresponsive to DMS and noted that DMS-responsive seabirds have a significantly greater plastic ingestion rate than birds that are nonresponsive to DMS. Scientists also studied plastic ingestion rates in both burrow-nesting seabirds and surface-nesting seabirds and noted that burrow-nesting seabirds illustrated a significantly higher frequency of plastic ingestion. In turn, the data combined suggest that burrow-nesting seabirds (such as the procellariform seabirds or the albatross) have a higher frequency of plastic ingestion because they are DMS-responsive.

More information concerning this study can be found in Science Advances Magazine at

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