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Potential of two epigeic and two anecic earthworm species in vermicomposting of water hyacinth


Bioresource Technology 76 (2001) 177±181

Potential of two epigeic and two anecic earthworm species in vermicomposting of water hyacinth
S. Gajalakshmi, E.V. Ramasamy, S.A. Abbasi *
Centre for Pollution Control and Energy Technology, Pondicherry University, Kalapet, Pondicherry 605 014, India Received 7 July 2000; received in revised form 20 August 2000; accepted 29 August 2000

Abstract The potential of two epigeic species (Eudrilus eugeniae Kinberg, and Perionyx excavatus Perrier) and two anecic species (Lampito mauritii Kinberg and Drawida willsi Michaelson) of earthworms was assessed in terms of e?ciency and sustainability of vermicomposting water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes, Mart. Solm.). In di?erent vermireactors, each run in duplicate with one of the four species of earthworms, and 75 g of 6:1 water hyacinth: cowdung as feed, vermicasts were produced with steadily increasing output in all the reactors. E. eugeniae was by far the most e?cient producer of vermicasts, followed by the other epigeic P. excavatus. The two anecics came next, with D. willsi being the least e?ective which could generate only about half the quantity of vermicasts achieved in a corresponding time by E. eugeniae. In all the reactors, the earthworms grew well, increasing their weights by more than 250%. The maximum net gain of weight (average 30.7 g) was by E. eugeniae, followed by P. excavatus, L. mauritii and D. willsi. This trend, which followed the e?ciency of vermicast production, was also shown in terms of reproductive ability as measured by the number of o?spring produced by the four species. ? 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Vermicomposting; Eudrilus eugeniae; Lampito mauritii; Perionyx excavatus; Drawida willsi; Vermicast; Water hyacinth

1. Introduction Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes Mart. Solm.) is one of the most intransigent weeds of the world (Abbasi, 1998). It has successfully resisted all attempts of eradicating it by chemical, biological, mechanical, or hybrid means (Abbasi and Ramasamy, 1999a). At present these methods succeed only in keeping the weed infestation in check at enormous costs. Wherever water hyacinth is not controlled, due to limited resources or other reasons, it rapidly covers all the water-bodies and surrounding marshy areas in those regions. At an average annual productivity of 50 dry (ash-free) tonnes per hectare per year, water hyacinth is one of the most productive ± perhaps the most productive ± plants in the world (Abbasi and Nipaney, 1986; Abbasi and Ramasamy, 1999a). This attribute helps the weed to cover water surfaces faster than most other plants. Such colonization of wetlands leads to rapid decline of the quantity and the quality of water contained in the wetlands ± eventually causing the loss of the wetlands.
Corresponding author. Tel.: +91-413-655363; fax: +91-413-655227/ 655265. E-mail address: prof_abbasi@vsnl.com (S.A. Abbasi).
*

The authors have been trying to ?nd ways and means of utilizing water hyacinth by low-cost and labour-intensive technology so that farmers and householders living near the wetlands are encouraged to harvest the weed, thus keeping it under control when other means of controlling it are not available. These attempts have led to the extraction of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) from water hyacinth to be used as feed-supplement in slurry biogas digesters (Abbasi and Ramasamy, 1996; Ramasamy and Abbasi, 2000), and solid-feed digesters to generate fuel (Ramasamy, 1997; Abbasi and Ramasamy, 1999b). Another economically viable means of utilizing water hyacinth, from among numerous options (Lakshman, 1987; Abbasi and Nipaney, 1993), has been the use of the weed in treating wastewaters with biodegradable pollutants (Tchobanoglous et al., 1989; Tchobanoglous and Burton, 1999). Even if these options are gainful, the problem of disposal of `spent' weed still remains. In this paper, we present studies on the e?cacy and sustainability of using four species of epigeic (phytophagous) and anecic (geophytophagous) earthworms in generating vermicasts from water hyacinth. In India ± as also many other parts of the world ± vermicasts are believed to have several components which improve the

0960-8524/01/$ - see front matter ? 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 9 6 0 - 8 5 2 4 ( 0 0 ) 0 0 1 3 3 - 4

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S. Gajalakshmi et al. / Bioresource Technology 76 (2001) 177±181

soil to which they are applied (Ashok Kumar, 1994; Ismail, 1997). The perceived, sometimes demonstrated, bene?ts include improvement in the water retention capability of the soil, and better plant availability of the nutrients in the vermicasts compared to the `parent' (pre-vermicomposted) material (Ismail, 1998). Vermicasts are also believed to contain enzymes and hormones that stimulate plant growth and discourage pathogens (Ismail, 1997; Abbasi and Ramasamy, 1999a; Szczeck, 1999). For these reasons vermicasts are popular soil applicants among the farmers, and ?nd a ready market. In earlier studies (Abbasi and Ramasamy, 1996; Abbasi et al., 2000), we had found that water hyacinth loses its ability to reproduce vegetatively or sexually after it has passed through the earthworm gut. Otherwise even tiny pieces of the weed petioles, if introduced in a water-logged area, can lead to reproduction and

vigorous colonization. These observations have encouraged us to explore possibilities of vermicomposting water hyacinth as a means of ?nal disposal of the weed. 2. Methods 2.1. Choice of the earthworm species The epigeic Eudrilus eugeniae Kinberg is a manure worm which has been extensively used in north America and Europe for vermicomposting because of its voracious appetite, high rate of growth, and reproductive ability. A few years back it was brought to India and has been favoured with progressively increasing application in the vermicomposting of animal manure and other forms of biomass (Ashok Kumar, 1994; Ismail, 1998).

Table 1 Generation of vermicasts (% of feed mass) per 15 days by the four earthworm species, with chopped fresh water hyacinth:cowdung as feed Runs (each of 15 days) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Average E. eugeniae Reactor I 35.4 42.6 40.8 41.5 43.2 43.5 45.9 45.1 46.8 50.1 50.3 51.6 44.7 Reactor II 41.4 46.0 43.8 44.5 47.6 46.5 49.7 47.9 51.6 54.7 53.3 55.6 48.6 P. excavatus Average Reactor I 38.4 44.3 42.3 43.0 45.4 45.0 47.8 46.5 49.2 52.4 51.8 53.6 46.6 29.6 32.8 33.7 33.4 34.6 35.6 36.3 38.2 37.5 40.9 42.6 43.3 36.5 L. mauritii Reactor II 25.9 31.4 32.0 32.5 37.2 32.8 34.6 39.6 39.1 43.1 44.2 45.8 36.5 D. willsi Average Reactor I 24.7 29.6 30.3 31.3 34.5 31.2 33.0 36.7 37.2 40.8 42.3 43.2 34.6 15.3 18.6 19.6 22.6 20.5 20.3 21.8 22.9 22.3 23.9 25.2 28.6 21.8 Reactor II 17.9 23.4 24.4 27.4 23.3 23.1 23.4 26.3 24.7 31.7 31.8 32.2 25.8 Average 16.6 21.0 22.0 25.0 21.9 21.7 22.6 24.6 23.5 27.8 28.5 30.4 23.8 Reactor Average Reactor II I 32.0 36.6 37.5 38.4 37.4 37.8 39.7 42.4 42.1 44.1 48.2 46.1 40.2 30.8 34.7 35.6 35.9 36.0 36.7 38.0 40.3 39.8 42.5 45.4 44.7 38.4 23.5 27.8 28.6 30.1 31.8 29.6 31.4 33.8 35.3 38.5 40.4 40.6 32.6

Table 2 Worm biomass, g, in various reactors (cf Table 1), as a function of time Runs E. eugeniae (each of 15 days) Reactor Reactor I II 0 (initial) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Net increase 18 19.6 21.3 23.1 26.8 27.4 31.8 34.3 36.8 39.8 43.7 46.4 49.0 17.8 18.4 20.0 21.5 24.1 26.8 30.0 32.5 35.6 38.1 44.3 46.2 48.1 P. excavatus Average Reactor I 17.9 19.0 20.7 22.3 25.5 27.1 30.9 33.4 36.2 39.0 44.0 46.3 48.6 30.7 13.0 14.1 16.3 18.4 20.4 22.3 24.6 28.4 30.5 31.8 34.4 36.8 38.7 Reactor II 13.4 14.4 16.8 18.5 20.2 21.8 24.2 27.9 30.7 32.0 35.0 37.1 39.2 L. mauritii Average Reactor I 13.2 14.3 16.6 18.5 20.3 22.1 24.4 28.2 30.6 31.9 34.7 37.0 39.0 25.8 14.8 15.4 16.8 17.9 19.3 21.4 23.7 26.9 29.4 31.2 33.9 36.0 37.4 Reactor Average II 13.9 14.8 16.5 18.0 19.4 21.8 24.1 26.4 28.9 31.0 32.8 35.6 37.9 14.4 15.1 16.7 18.0 19.4 21.6 23.9 26.7 29.2 31.1 33.4 35.8 37.7 23.3 D. willsi Reactor I 13.3 14.2 16.8 18.1 19.4 21.3 23.5 24.3 25.0 27.3 29.4 34.2 36.8 Reactor Average II 13.1 14.0 15.9 17.8 19.0 21.1 23.2 24.0 25.3 27.8 29.0 32.5 35.2 13.2 14.1 16.4 18.0 19.2 21.2 23.4 24.2 25.2 27.6 29.2 33.4 36.0 22.8

S. Gajalakshmi et al. / Bioresource Technology 76 (2001) 177±181 Table 3 Number of new o?spring recorded each fortnight in various reactors (cf Table 1) Runs (each of 15 days) 1±3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Net increase E. eugeniae Reactor I 0 0 3 0 1 4 2 2 8 6 26 Reactor II 0 2 1 1 3 8 1 7 3 4 30 P. excavatus Average Reactor I 0 1 2 0.5 2 6 1.5 4.5 5.5 5 28 0 0 2 1 1 4 4 5 3 2 21 Reactor II 0 0 0 4 3 2 6 2 1 5 23 L. mauritii Average Reactor I 0 0 1 2.5 1.5 3.0 5.0 3.5 2.0 3.5 22 0 2 0 2 1 3 2 3 5 2 20 D. willsi Reactor II 0 0 1 2 4 1 2 2 3 4 19 Reactor Average Reactor II I 0 1 3 0 0 4 1 2 2 4 17 0 1.5 1.5 1.0 0.5 3.5 1.5 2.5 3.5 3.0 18.5 0 0 0 3 2 5 3 2 0 3 18

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Average 0 0 0.5 2.5 3.0 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.5 3.5 18.5

The other epigeic species of worm studied by us ± Perionyx excavatus Perrier ± is indigenous and occurs in most parts of India (Gaur and Singh, 1995; Ismail, 1997). It is also common in several other regions across the world (Manna et al., 1997). Both the anecic (geophytophagous) species of worms utilized in this study occur in India, as also elsewhere, but Drawida willsi Michaelson is particularly common in the southern part of the Indian peninsula. 2.2. Vermireactors Circular, 4 l plastic containers (dia. 24 cm, depth 9 cm) were ?lled from bottom up with successive layers of sawdust, river sand and soil of depths 1, 2, and 4 cm, respectively. In each reactor, 20 healthy and adult animals of the chosen species were introduced. These animals were picked from the cultures maintained by the authors with cowdung as the feed. Each culture had more than 200 animals from which 20 individuals were randomly picked for these experiments. The average moisture content of the vermireactors was maintained at 45 ? 1% by monitoring the moisture content at di?erent heights of the reactors every week and sprinkling the required quantities of water. Usually the top one-third of the reactors had 29 ? 1% moisture, the middle onethird 45 ? 1%, and the bottom one-third 61 ? 1%. All quantities were adjusted so that the feed and the casting mass reported in this paper represent dry weights (taken after oven-drying at 105 C to constant weight). The earthworm biomass is reported as live weight, taken after rinsing adhering material o? the worms and blotting them dry. The castings were carefully sieved to separate other particles. A portion of the castings was then weighed and thoroughly washed with water to separate the small soil particles contained in the castings from the organic matter. The separated soil was oven

Fig. 1. Recovery of vermicasts (%) each fortnight by (a) E. eugeniae (b) P. excavatus (c) L. mauritii (d) D. willsi.

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dried (105 C) to constant weight. This enabled determination of the mass fraction of soil particles contained in the castings. This fraction was subtracted from the total mass of castings recovered. Thus, the vermiconversion data presented here pertain to conversion of only the feed to the castings, and exclude the entrained soil. The reactors, all run in duplicate, were started with 75 g of feed comprising of water hyacinth:cowdung at 6:1 (w/w, dry weight). After 15 days, the castings and the earthworms were removed and placed in separate containers for quanti?cation while the rest of the reactor contents were discarded. Within a few minutes fresh reactors were started. The juveniles, if any were generated in the previous run, were separated and the 20 worms, with which the reactors had been started, were weighed and reintroduced. It was very easy to distinguish `parent' worms as they were much larger in size than the juveniles produced during the run. All subsequent measurements were taken once in 15 days in the manner described above, resetting the vermireactors each time so that the same sets of worms with which the reactors were started continued to be the principal producers of vermicasts. 3. Results and discussion The average vermicast recovery as the fraction of feed mass (Table 1) was low during the ?rst fortnight of re-

actor operation, indicating that the earthworms, which had been cultured with cowdung as the principal feed, took some time to acclimatize with the changeover to water hyacinth feed. As the reactor outputs had been ?uctuating, albeit within a narrow range, trend lines were drawn using an appropriate software (Microsoft, 1997) in order to assess whether the ?uctuations were leading to a net rising, falling, or steady vermicast output. The results indicated rising trends of small slopes (Fig. 1). Further, successive runs yielded a fairly consistent recovery, agreeing to within 3% of each other. The vermicast output from reactors run in duplicate was also reproducible; the duplicates agreeing to within 4% in most runs. As the reactors were comprised of poorly mixed, heterogenous solids, this level of agreement within duplicates may be deemed quite good. The average mass of the earthworms of all the four species increased (Table 2) by close to three orders of magnitude, and was still increasing as re?ected in the last three runs. We would, therefore, expect that the vermicast output would continue to rise till the earthworms reached the height of feeding activity. Thereafter it might decline as the earthworms lived beyond their most active age. All species of earthworms reproduced successfully in these reactors (Table 3). Had the o?spring not been continuously removed, the earthworm population in reactors with P. excavatus, L. mauritii and D. willsi would have almost doubled and in reactors with E. eu-

Fig. 2. Number of juveniles produced by 20 animals of E. eugeniae (a), P. excavatus (b), L. mauritii (c), D. willsi (d) over six months.

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geniae it would have increased two-and-a-half times (Figs. 1 and 2). On the basis of this observation, one can assume that all the reactors might continue to run inde?nitely on the water hyacinth feed, with new generations of earthworms gradually taking over the vermiconversion as the previous generation gradually declined in activity and died. In terms of the e?ciency of vermiconversion of water hyacinth (as re?ected in the mass of vermicasts produced per unit time for the given rate of feed input), the animal species followed the trend EX eugeniae b P X excavatus b LX mauritii b DX willsi. Similar trends were observed for increase in animal biomass (Table 2), and number of o?spring produced, with the exception that in the latter aspect L. mauritii was indistinguishable from D. willsi. In our earlier experiments with the performance of vermireactors run on these four species and with waste paper as the principal feed, we had found that the geophytophagous L. mauritii was not only the most e?cient producer of vermicasts but also generated more o?spring during the six-month long trials (Gajalakshmi et al., 2000). In the present instance, the phytophagous E. eugeniae and P. excavatus were seen to score over the two geophytophagous, or anecic, species. Besides the fact that water hyacinth is phytomass and ought to be naturally preferred by phytophagous species, the relative `hardness' of waste paper feed may be a reason why geophytophagous worms were able to feed upon it more voraciously than did the phytophagous species. Acknowledgements The authors thank the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, New Delhi, for ?nancial support. Dr Ramasamy thanks the Council for Scienti?c and Industrial Research, New Delhi for the award of a Research Associateship. References
Abbasi, S.A., 1998. Weeds of despair, and hope. In: Abbasi., et al., (Eds.), Wetlands of India, vol. III, Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi, pp. 12±21. Abbasi, S.A., Nipaney, P.C., 1986. Infestation by aquatic weeds of the fern genus salvinia: its status and control. Environmental Conservation 13, 235±241. Abbasi, S.A., Nipaney, P.C., 1993. Worlds worst weed (salvinia) ± its impact and utilization. International book Distributors, Dehradun, p. 226.

Abbasi, S.A., Ramasamy, E.V., 1996. Utilization of biowaste solids by extracting volatile fatty acids with subsequent conversion to methane and manure. In: Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on Solid Waste Technology and Management. Philadelphia, pp. 4C1±4C8. Abbasi, S.A., Ramasamy, E.V., 1999a. In: Biotechnological Methods of Pollution Control. Orient Longman (Universities press India Ltd), Hyderabad, pp. 168. Abbasi, S.A., Ramasamy, E.V., 1999b. Anaerobic digestion of high solid waste. In: Proceedings of Eight National Symposium on Environment IGCAR, Kalpakkam, India, 20±22 July, 220±224. Abbasi, S.A., Ramasamy, E.V., Gajalakshmi, S., 2000. Wetland restoration, mosquito control, boost to agriculture and employment generation through bioconversion of water hyacinth. Report submitted to Department of science, Technology and Environment, Government of Pondicherry, pp. 48. Ashok Kumar, C., 1994. State of the Art Report on Vermiculture in India, Council for Advancement of Peoples Action and Rural Technology (CAPART), New Delhi, pp. 60 . Gajalakshmi, S., Ramasamy, E.V., and Abbasi, S.A., 2000. Screening of four species of detritivorous (humusformer) earthworms for sustainable vermicomposting of paper waste. Environmental Technology, in press. Gaur, A.C., Singh, G., 1995. Recycling of rural and urban wastes through conventional composting and vermicomposting. In: Tandon, H.L.S. (Ed.), Recycling of crop, animal, human and industrial wastes in agriculture, Fertiliser Development and Consultation Organisation, New Delhi, 31±49. Ismail, S.A., 1997. Vermicology the Biology of Earthworms. Orient Longman, Hyderabad, pp. 92. Ismail, S.A., 1998. The contribution of soil fauna especially the earthworms to soil fertility. In: Proceedings of the Workshop on Organic Farming, Institute of Research in Soil Biology and Biotechnology, The New College, Chennai, pp. 9. Lakshman, G., 1987. Ecotechnological opportunities for aquatic plants a survey of utilization options. In: Reddy, K.R., Smith, W.H. (Eds.), Aquatic plants for water treatment and resource recovery, Magnolia Publishing Inc., FL, 49±68. Manna, M.C., Singh, M., Kundu, S., Tripathi, A.K., Takkar, P.N., 1997. Growth and reproduction of the vermicomposting earthworm Perionyx excavatus as in?uenced by food materials. Biology and Fertility of Solids 24 (1), 129±132. Microsoft, 1997. Excel 97, Version 8.0. Ramasamy, E.V., 1997. Biowaste treatment with anaerobic reactors, PhD thesis, submitted to Pondicherry University, Pondicherry, India, pp. 300. Ramasamy, E.V., Abbasi, S.A., 2000. Enhancement in the treatment e?ciency and conversion to energy of dairy wastewater by augmenting CST reactors with simple bio?lm support systems. Environmental Technology (communicated). Szczeck, M.M., 1999. Suppressiveness of vermicompost against fusarium wilt of tomato. Journal of phytopathology Phytopathologische zeitschrift 47, 155±161. Tchobanoglous, G., Burton, F.L., 1999. Wastewater engineering treatment, disposal, and reuse. Tata McGrawHill Publishing Company Limited, New Delhi, pp. 1334. Tchobanoglous, G., Maitski, F.K., Thomson, K., Chadwick, T.H., 1989. Evolution and performance of city of san Diego pilot scale aquatic wastewater treatment system using water hyacinth. J. WPCF 61 (11/12).


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