Microplastics as an emerging threat to plant and soil health in agroecosystems

Jie Zhou, Yuan Wen, Miles R. Marshall, Jie Zhao, Heng Gui, Yadong Yang, Zhaohai Zeng, Davey L. Jones, Huadong Zang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

1 Citation (Scopus)


Microplastics (MPs, <5 mm in diameter) have been widely recognized as a critical environmental issue due to their extensive use and low degradation rate. Based on current evidence, our aim is to evaluate whether MPs represent an emerging threat to plant-soil health in agroecosystems. We assess the ecological risks to plant-microbe-soil interactions associated with MPs and discuss the consequences of MPs on soil carbon (C), nutrient cycling, as well as greenhouse gas emissions in agroecosystems. We also identify knowledge gaps and give suggestions for future research. We conclude that MPs can alter a range of key soil biogeochemical processes by changing its properties, forming specific microbial hotspots, resulting in multiple effects on microbial activities and functions. Mixed effects of MPs on plant growth and performance can be explained by the direct toxicity of MPs or the indirect alteration in soil physical structures and microbial communities (i.e. symbiotic arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi). Because of the diverse nature of MPs found in soils, in terms of polymer type, shape and size, we also see differing effects on soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition, nutrient cycling, and greenhouse gases production. Importantly, increased bioavailable C from the decomposition of biodegradable MPs, which enhances microbial and enzymatic activities, potentially accelerates SOM mineralization and increases nutrient competition between plant and microbes. Thus, biodegradable MPs appear to pose a greater risk to plant growth compared to petroleum-based MPs. Although MPs may confer some benefits in agroecosystems (e.g. enhanced soil structure, aeration), it is thought that these will be far outweighed by the potential disbenefits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147444
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2021


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