Electronic supplementary information from Odours from marine plastic debris induce food search behaviours in a forage fish

Plastic pollution is an anthropogenic stressor in marine ecosystems globally. Many species of marine fish (more than 50) ingest plastic debris. Ingested plastic has a variety of lethal and sublethal impacts and can be a route for bioaccumulation of toxic compounds throughout the food web. Despite its pervasiveness and severity, our mechanistic understanding of this maladaptive foraging behaviour is incomplete. Recent evidence suggests that the chemical signature of plastic debris may explain why certain species are predisposed to mistaking plastic for food. Anchovy (Engraulis sp.) are abundant forage fish in coastal upwelling systems and a critical prey resource for top predators. Anchovy ingest plastic in natural conditions, though the mechanism they use to misidentify plastic as prey is unknown. Here, we presented wild-caught schools of Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax) with odour solutions made of plastic debris and clean plastic to compare school-wide aggregation and rheotactic responses relative to food and food odour presentations. Anchovy schools responded to plastic debris odour with increased aggregation and reduced rheotaxis. These results were similar to the effects food and food odour presentations had on schools. Conversely, these behavioural responses were absent in clean plastic and control treatments. To our knowledge, this is the first experimental evidence that adult anchovy use odours to forage. We conclude that the chemical signature plastic debris acquires in the photic zone can induce foraging behaviours in anchovy schools. These findings provide further support for a chemosensory mechanism underlying plastic consumption by marine wildlife. Given the trophic position of forage fish, these findings have considerable implications for aquatic food webs and possibly human health.