Role of marine nitrifying bacteria in a closed system with Penaeus monodon.
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In recent years there has been widespread interest in rearing aquatic organisms of nutritional and commercial value (Calaprice, 1976). The most hopeful prospect for marine prawn culture in the United Kingdom (Wickins, 1976), the Americas (Hanson & Goodwin, 1977) and South Africa probably lies in intensive culture under controlled conditions. A closed system approach, in which a captive body of water is circulated, provides the scope for water quality management which results ~n maximum water utilization and minimal discharge. On the other hand, direct utilization of sea-water in open systems presents problems for aquaculture since this water is subjected to diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in temperature, salinity and turbidity, as well as contamination from industrial, agricultural and maritime sources. Furthermore, large mariculture farms release enormous amounts of organic wastes which result in eutrophication and could lead to environmental deterioration of coastal waters (Gerhardt, 1978). It is well established that circulated sea-water develops an unusual ~on~c composition as a result of the metabolic activity of the prawns and of the nitrifying bacteria in the biological filter. The changes include elevated levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate and reduced pH. The presence of even sublethal levels of these nitrogenous compounds ~n closed systems have been found to affect growth of penaeid spec~es (Wickins, 1976). Ammonia and nitrite, which rapidly accumulate in the water, are usually maintained at nontoxic levels by nitrification in the biological filters (Spotte, 1974; Johnson & Sieburth, 1974). The chemolithotrophic bacteria responsible for nitrification are presently classified by their · cellular morphology and by the oxidation of either ammonia and nitrite (Watson, 1974). The predominant ammonia- and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria isolated from natural environments are Nitrosomonas europaea and Nitrobacter winogradskyi, respectively (Watson et aZ., 1981). Direct observation of nitrifying bacteria in natural environments, however, has been limited to studies involving light microscopy with immunofluorescent techniques (Fliermans et aZ., 1974; Fliermans & Schmidt, 1975). The electron microscopic observation of nitrifying bacteria ~sdifficult in natural microcosms with low levels of nitrification and with the presence of sunlight and anaerobic conditions conducive to the enrichment of other bacteria with a similar ultrastructure. However, in closed systems with extremely active nitrification but poor light conditions, the occurrence of morphologically similar forms in numbers that could be easily detected by electron microscopy is unlikely (Johnsort & Sieburth, 1976). Furthermore, the cyst-like colonies of the nitrifiers are unique and are not found with the methane-oxidizing bacteria with a similar ultrastructure (Davies & Whittenbury, 1970; Smith & Ribbons, 1970), whereas the thick cell wall of the cyanobacteria (Carr & Whitton, 1973) and the distinctive cell morphologies of the purple sulphur and purple nonsulphur bacteria (Pfennig, 1967) separate them from the nitrifiers. Therefore, closed systems with active nitrification provide the ideal environment to study the activities of nitrifiers in conjunction with their relative abundance, nature and diversity. In spite of the opportunity offered by closed systems, previous studies (Kawai et aZ., 1965; Wickins, 1976; Gerhardt, 1978; Mevel & Chamroux, 1981) on nitrification have been primarily indirect observations on rates of ammonia and nitrite oxidation to nitrate (Johnson & Sieburth, 1976). Studies on the enumeration and identification of nitrifiers ~n closed systems have been seriously neglected. Kawai et aZ. (1964) included the enumeration of nitrifiers in their study on nitrification while,in a qualitative study, an attempt to identify the in situ nitrifiers 1n closed systems (Johnson & Sieburth, 1976) was not very successful. This study was undertaken to investigate the three basic aspects of nitrification necessary for the understanding of such a process in closed systems, viz., the oxidation of ammonia and nitrite to nitrate, and the enumeration and identification of the nitrifying bacteria. Prior to determining the concentrations of the nitrogenous compounds in the culture water, various methods were evaluated for their accuracy and reproducibility with both sea-water and culture water samples. This approach is necessary in order to gauge the accuracy of results obtained by such methods. Enumeration of nitrifying bacteria was preceded by an investigation on the effect of incubation time on the maximum most probable number , estimate. Such an investigation was necessary because of the inconsistent approach to the enumeration of nitrifiers in previous studies (Wilson, 1927; Walker et al., 1937; Lewis & Pramer, 1958; Molina & Rovira, 1964; Meiklejohn, 1965; Smith et al., 1968). Incubation periods appear to have been chosen arbitrarily in previous investigations. Identifi~ation of nitrifying bacteria necessitates the isolation and purification of these organisms. Isolation of nitrifiers 1S a difficult and time-consuming task (Watson et al., 1981) and could be the main reason for not being included in previous studies on nitrification. Since the success of this study depended upon the isolation and purification of these chemolithotrophs, this aspect is de~lt with in detail. The changes most likely to be associated with nitrification in a closed system were also monitored 1n the culture water. These included pH, dissolved oxygen and biochemical oxygen demand. Apart from a biological sand filter, no other form of culture water treatment was effected during the investigation. The effect of growing the "sugpo" or jumbo tiger prawn, Penaeus monodon (Kinne, 1977) for 22 weeks in a captive body of sea-water was evaluated by comparing the survival and wet mass with those reported by other workers. This study differs greatly from previous reports on nitrification in closed systems because both the "causes" and "symptoms" of this important detoxifying process are investigated. It is intended that the findings of such a study would aid culturists in exploiting the nitrifying potential of closed systems to its utmost.