Can the mass of plastic ingested by seabirds be predicted by the number of ingested items?

Alexander L. Bond, Jennifer L. Lavers

Plastics pollution has been documented for decades, yet repeatable methods for evaluating quantities are lacking. For wildlife, the mass and number of ingested plastics are widely reported, but these are not without their challenges, especially in field settings. Rapid methods for estimating the mass of ingested plastic could therefore be useful, but the relationship with the number of ingested pieces has not been explored. Using a dataset covering 1278 individuals of 11 Procellariiform species, we investigated this relationship to determine if counts could act as a proxy for the mass of ingested plastic by seabirds. Larger species ingested larger pieces of plastic, and birds that consumed more pieces also ingested items that are physically larger. Across species, sample size significantly influenced the slope of the relationship between the mass and number of ingested plastics. The mass-number relationship is species-specific, highly driven by sample size, and varies temporally