The Effects of Plants and Fish on Nitrate, Nitrite, and Ammonia levels in Fresh Water

This topic submitted by Heather Storer Shannon Kisha Heather Storer, Shannon Kisha, Matthew Dudzik (Storerhj@miamioh.edu; Kishasn@miamioh.edu; Dudzikmr@miamioh.edu) at 10:34 PM on 4/30/02. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Wagner

Introduction

A. Relevance

Our project focuses on the nitrogen cycle and how it is demonstrated within a new fresh-water aquarium setup. We will examine the levels of nitrate, nitrite, and Ammonia. In a fresh-water system heterotrophic bacteria converts organic waste material into Ammonia (NH4), then nitro soma bacteria converts the Ammonia into nitrite. Then, nitrobacter bacteria converts nitrate into nitrate. We expect to follow these trends on the graphs of our data. One issue of concern to humans concerning nitrates, is the levels of nitrates in drinking water. Nitrates can be harmful to humans, in particular, infants. In one case an infant died of Methemoglobinemia, caused by toxic levels of nitrates in the water table. With increasing numbers of man-made fertilizers that contain nitrates, the water table is in danger of becoming polluted with nitrates and other chemicals. The fish in our project are the nitrate producers, and can simulate the effects of nitrates in the water table. The expanding amount of pollutants in our environment raise important questions about the health damage humans can bring about. By tracing the nitrogen cycle in the fish bowl set-up, we can get a better understanding of how the nitrogen cycle works. Also, we can determine the effects of plants on the cycle, and how they may be beneficial to the quality of the water.

B. Hypothesis

How will plants and fish affect the levels of nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia in three different treatments of fresh water fish bowls? What is the importance for monitoring nitrate levels of water? Our hypothesis is that there will be different levels of nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia in the three treatments specifically, the bowl with only one plant should have the lowest levels of nitrate. The tank with the fish and plant will have the next higher level of nitrate. The bowl with the fish will have the highest level of nitrate.
To begin with, we will set up three bowls. Each bowl will have a different treatment. Bowl 1 will have one plant. Bowl 2 will have one fish. Bowl 3 will have one fish and one plant. We will test the water every three or four days, recording the levels of nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia with the use test kits. The experiment will stop once the nitrate level peaks and starts coming down and the Ammonia level peaks. This could take a few weeks or months. We are also considering researching the effects of nitrate in aquarium water, methods of controlling nitrate levels in larger aquarium set-ups, and the importance of monitoring nitrate levels. Nitrate levels are an issue that we have previous information on and is an issue we are pursuing. After collecting the data, we will organize it by plotting the data in graphs and comparing the data from each of the treatments.


Sources

Johnson, Carl J. MD, et al. “Fatal Outcome of Methemoglobinemia in an Infant.” JAMA 257 (1987): 2796-2797.

Hudak, Paul F. “Chloride and Nitrate Distributions in the Hickory Aquifer, Central Texal, USA.” Environmental International 25 (1999): 393- 401.

Wendel, Tom and Rachel Austin. Environmental Science and Technology 35: 328A.

Hughes, K.D. Analytical Chemistry 65 (1993): 883A- 889A.

Soletchnik, Patrick, et al. “Hydrobiology of the Marennes-Oleron bay. Seasonal indices and analysis of trend from 1978 to 1995.” Hydrobiologia 386 (1998): 131-146.

Stanitski, Conrad L, et al. Chemistry in Context. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Elmhurst.edu 21 Feb. 2001. Nitrogen Cycle.

Vitousek, Peter, et al. “Human Alteration of the Global nitrogen Cycle: Causes and Consequences.” 21 Feb. 2001.

Pubix.net 21 Feb. 2001. Nitrogen Cycle.


Methods and Materials

A. Methods

We will be testing the levels of nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia approximately every other day for several weeks, until the data reflects a complete nitrogen cycle. This should include a rise in levels of ammonia levels until they peak, then the ammonia levels should fall as the nitrate levels begin to rise.


B. List of materials:

3 half gallon fish bowls
1 two-gallon fish bowl (for back up fish and back up plants)
2 goldfish
2 back up experimental goldfish available for use on experiment
3 Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Inc, Dry-Tab, Nitrate testing kits (one per
person)
3 Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Inc, freshwater Ammonia testing kits (one
per person)
3 Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Inc, freshwater Nitrite testing kits (one
per person)
3 water droppers
3 tests tubes with caps to be used for experiment
12 back up test tubes available for use on experiment
2 underwater plants
2 back up underwater plants available for use on experiment
1 fish net (for moving fish into the bowl)
3 packets of fish food
10 gallons of bottled spring water

C. Procedure steps, to be done every three to four days:

1. Fill a test tube to the white line with water from the fish bowl
2. Drop one Nitrate tablet into the water, put a cap on, and shake until completely dissolved
3. Remove top, drop one dry-tab in the water, place cap back on and shake for exactly one minute
4. Wait five minute for full color to develop and place next to card to see how many parts per million there are based on the color of the water
5. Write down number on chart
6. Fill another test tube to the white line with water from the fish bowl
7. Place five drops of Nitrite test solution in the water, cap it off and shake.
8. Wait five minutes for full color to develop, place next to card to see how many parts per million there are based on the color of the water
9. Write down number on chart
10. Fill another test tube to the white line with water from the fish bowl
11. Place eight drops of Ammonia test solution in the water, cap off, and shake
12. Read results right away, place next to cart to see how many parts per million there are based on the color of the water
13. Record readings

D. Timeline

Week 1-4 test water levels every three to four days until data reflects full nitrogen cycle

Week 5-7 analyze data, make graphs

Week 8-9 write report

Week 10 presentation

E. Data

Results

The trends in the graphs did not turn out as we had expected. There were some significant differences in the following tests: the ammonia levels for the plant tank and the fish tank, the ammonia levels for the plant tank and the plant and fish tank, the nitrite levels for the plant tank and plant and fish tank, the nitrite levels for the fish tank and the plant and fish tank, the nitrate levels for the plant tank and the fish tank, the nitrate levels for the plant tank and the plant and fish tank. One explanation for the ammonia levels in the fish and plant tank is that the ammonia was used up by the nitrosoma quicker than expected. In the plant tank it appears that the plant began using the ammonia. Another possibility for the overall low values of nitrite and ammonia could be that it takes time for the bacterial colonies to get started in a new aquarium set-up.

Some things we would change if we were to do the project again would be to establish the health of the fish then put then into new tanks to begin testing. If the health quality of the fish was improved then the testing period could be prolonged.

One application to the real world would be to examine how large scale fresh-water aquariums deal with controlling the levels of ammonia, nitrate and nitrite in the tanks. During our visit to the Newport aquarium we questioned many of the employees deal with the issues of nitrogen levels. None of the employees were able to respond.


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