Postprint of: Castine, SA, Erler, DV, Trott, LA, Paul, NA, de Nys, R & Eyre, BD 2012, 'Denitrification and anammox in tropical aquaculture settlement ponds: an isotope tracer approach for evaluating N2 production', PLOS One, vol. 7, no. 9, e42810.
Settlement ponds are used to treat aquaculture discharge water by removing nutrients through physical (settling) and biological (microbial transformation) processes. Nutrient removal through settling has been quantified, however, the occurrence of, and potential for microbial nitrogen (N) removal is largely unknown in these systems. Therefore, isotope tracer techniques were used to measure potential rates of denitrification and anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) in the sediment of settlement ponds in tropical aquaculture systems. Dinitrogen gas (N2) was produced in all ponds, although potential rates were low (0–7.07 nmol N cm−3 h−1) relative to other aquatic systems. Denitrification was the main driver of N2 production, with anammox only detected in two of the four ponds. No correlations were detected between the measured sediment variables (total organic carbon, total nitrogen, iron, manganese, sulphur and phosphorous) and denitrification or anammox. Furthermore, denitrification was not carbon limited as the addition of particulate organic matter (paired t-Test; P = 0.350, n = 3) or methanol (paired t-Test; P = 0.744, n = 3) did not stimulate production of N2. A simple mass balance model showed that only 2.5% of added fixed N was removed in the studied settlement ponds through the denitrification and anammox processes. It is recommended that settlement ponds be used in conjunction with additional technologies (i.e. constructed wetlands or biological reactors) to enhance N2 production and N removal from aquaculture wastewater.