Plastic pollution is unavoidable in the natural environment. Consequences of plastic ingestion include exposure to environmental pollutants and toxin accumulation, causing endocrine disruption, inflammatory and physiological stress in organisms. Microplastics have been shown to transfer across food webs, however, limited studies have examined microplastic accumulation across terrestrial food webs. Furthermore, few studies have examined plastic pollution in apex predatory animals. A study was conducted to quantify the abundance of plastic pollution in the gastrointestinal tract in birds of prey. Two species were investigated, one which forages in terrestrial habitats and one which forages in aquatic environments including Buteo lineatus (red-shouldered hawk) and Pandion haliaetus (osprey), respectively. The gastrointestinal tract was necropsied, chemically digested, and examined for microplastic prevalence. Overall, microplastics are significantly more abundant per gram of gastrointestinal (GI) tract tissue in species that forage on small rodents and terrestrial reptiles (B. lineatus) as compared to species that forage on fish and aquatic invertebrates (P. haliaetus). Buteo lineatus averaged 0.81 (±0.15) fibers and 0.14 (±0.04) fragments per gram of GI tract tissue while P. halieatus averaged 0.31 (±0.09) fibers and 0.04 (±0.02) fragments per gram of GI tract tissue. There was a significant interaction between type and color in both B. lineatus and P. haliaetus GI tract tissues. Micro-Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (μ-FTIR) was run on haphazardly selected samples and found that rayon was the most common polymer identified in both species. The significant difference found between species could be indicative that terrestrial raptors may experience greater bioaccumulation than aquatic species foraging at comparable trophic levels. However, the significant interaction between type and color in both species indicates a potential common source of pollution that affects both environments. Further investigation on the source of polymers is necessary in order to develop conservation and management strategies aimed at decreasing the output of synthetic fibers into the environment. Due to the abundance of polymers found in these species, understanding the potential biological and physiological effects of plastics is essential to informing superior management strategies that can better protect and preserve wildlife from increasing anthropogenic pressures.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair

Walters, Linda


Donnelly, Melinda


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program




Access Status

Open Access

Release Date


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Biology Commons