Why do seabirds eat plastic? Because it smells like food

21 November 2016

Researchers examined why birds make the mistake of eating plastic. It turns out that marine plastic debris emits the scent of the sulfur compound dimethyl sulfide, or DMS that some seabirds have relied upon for thousands of years to tell them where to find food.
DMS is a chemical cue released by algae, which coats floating plastic. DMS is released when algae is eaten by animals like krill, one of the birds’ favorite meals. So while the algae does not smell like food itself, it does smell like food being eaten, which is the birds’ version of a dinner bell. An article about the research is published in Science Advances (News Item University of California, Davis, 9 November 2016).
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Click here for the published article (663 kB).
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