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Concept: Manure


The contamination of the environment with microplastic, defined as particles smaller than 5 mm, has emerged as a global challenge because it may pose risks to biota and public health. Current research focuses predominantly on aquatic systems, whereas comparatively little is known regarding the sources, pathways, and possible accumulation of plastic particles in terrestrial ecosystems. We investigated the potential of organic fertilizers from biowaste fermentation and composting as an entry path for microplastic particles into the environment. Particles were classified by size and identified by attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. All fertilizer samples from plants converting biowaste contained plastic particles, but amounts differed significantly with substrate pretreatment, plant, and waste (for example, household versus commerce) type. In contrast, digestates from agricultural energy crop digesters tested for comparison contained only isolated particles, if any. Among the most abundant synthetic polymers observed were those used for common consumer products. Our results indicate that depending on pretreatment, organic fertilizers from biowaste fermentation and composting, as applied in agriculture and gardening worldwide, are a neglected source of microplastic in the environment.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fertilizer, Urea, Compost, Organic fertilizer, Manure, Green manure, Vermicompost


The series of papers in this issue of AMBIO represent technical presentations made at the 7th International Phosphorus Workshop (IPW7), held in September, 2013 in Uppsala, Sweden. At that meeting, the 150 delegates were involved in round table discussions on major, predetermined themes facing the management of agricultural phosphorus (P) for optimum production goals with minimal water quality impairment. The six themes were (1) P management in a changing world; (2) transport pathways of P from soil to water; (3) monitoring, modeling, and communication; (4) importance of manure and agricultural production systems for P management; (5) identification of appropriate mitigation measures for reduction of P loss; and (6) implementation of mitigation strategies to reduce P loss. This paper details the major challenges and research needs that were identified for each theme and identifies a future roadmap for catchment management that cost-effectively minimizes P loss from agricultural activities.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Water pollution, Drainage basin, Sweden, Agricultural economics, Plan, Manure


Coupled measurements of nitrate (NO3(-)), nitrogen (N), and oxygen (O) isotopic composition (δ(15)NNO3 and δ(18)ONO3) were used to investigate the sources and processes of N cycling, while the microbial source tracking (MST) method was used to identify microbiological pollution in the surface water of the Sava River Basin (SRB) in autumn in 2014 and 2015 during high and low water discharge. Atmospheric nitrate deposition or nitrate-containing fertilizers were found not to be significant sources of riverine nitrate in the SRB. The ranges of isotope values suggest that NO3(-) in the SRB derives from soil nitrification, sewage, and/or manure, which were further supported by MST analysis. Microbiological indicators show the existence of hotspots of fecal pollution in the SRB, which are human associated. Long-term observations indicate persistent fecal contamination at selected locations caused by continuous discharge of untreated wastewaters into the SRB.

Concepts: Bacteria, Water, Nitrogen, Hydrology, Isotope, Guano, Manure, Danube


Increasing diffuse nitrate loading of surface waters and groundwater has emerged as a major problem in many agricultural areas of the world, resulting in contamination of drinking water resources in aquifers as well as eutrophication of freshwaters and coastal marine ecosystems. Although empirical correlations between application rates of N fertilizers to agricultural soils and nitrate contamination of adjacent hydrological systems have been demonstrated, the transit times of fertilizer N in the pedosphere-hydrosphere system are poorly understood. We investigated the fate of isotopically labeled nitrogen fertilizers in a three-decade-long in situ tracer experiment that quantified not only fertilizer N uptake by plants and retention in soils, but also determined to which extent and over which time periods fertilizer N stored in soil organic matter is rereleased for either uptake in crops or export into the hydrosphere. We found that 61-65% of the applied fertilizers N were taken up by plants, whereas 12-15% of the labeled fertilizer N were still residing in the soil organic matter more than a quarter century after tracer application. Between 8-12% of the applied fertilizer had leaked toward the hydrosphere during the 30-y observation period. We predict that additional exports of (15)N-labeled nitrate from the tracer application in 1982 toward the hydrosphere will continue for at least another five decades. Therefore, attempts to reduce agricultural nitrate contamination of aquatic systems must consider the long-term legacy of past applications of synthetic fertilizers in agricultural systems and the nitrogen retention capacity of agricultural soils.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Fertilizer, Eutrophication, Soil, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Manure


Debate exists about whether agricultural versus medical antibiotic use drives increasing antibiotic resistance (AR) across nature. Both sectors have been inconsistent at antibiotic stewardship, but it is unclear which sector has most influenced acquired AR on broad scales. Using qPCR and soils archived since 1923 at Askov Experimental Station in Denmark, we quantified four broad-spectrum β-lactam AR genes (ARG; blaTEM, blaSHV, blaOXA and blaCTX-M) and class-1 integron genes (int1) in soils from manured (M) versus inorganic fertilised (IF) fields. “Total” β-lactam ARG levels were significantly higher in M versus IF in soils post-1940 (paired-t test; p < 0.001). However, dominant individual ARGs varied over time; blaTEM and blaSHV between 1963 and 1974, blaOXA slightly later, and blaCTX-M since 1988. These dates roughly parallel first reporting of these genes in clinical isolates, suggesting ARGs in animal manure and humans are historically interconnected. Archive data further show when non-therapeutic antibiotic use was banned in Denmark, blaCTX-M levels declined in M soils, suggesting accumulated soil ARGs can be reduced by prudent antibiotic stewardship. Conversely, int1 levels have continued to increase in M soils since 1990, implying direct manure application to soils should be scrutinized as part of future stewardship programs.

Concepts: Bacteria, Agriculture, Antibiotic resistance, Soil, Antibiotic, Antibiotics, Manure, Alternate reality game


Steroid oestrogens (SE) are released by humans and animals into the environment. In the Mekong Delta animal excrement is directly discharged into surface water and can pollute the water. Only a few animal production sites are currently treating the excrement in either biogas plants or vermicomposting systems. The concentration of SE in manures from pigs and cattle was monitored in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Fresh cow faeces had an oestrogen concentration of 3.3 ng E2 eq/g dry weight. The SE concentration in effluent from biogas plants fed with animal manures was 341 ng E2 eq/L. Most of the SE were in the solid phase (77.9-98.7%). Vermicomposting reduced SE to 95% of the original input.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Plant, Cattle, Anaerobic digestion, Feces, Compost, Manure, Cow dung


Anaerobic digestion of residual materials from animals and crops offers an opportunity to simultaneously produce bioenergy and plant fertilizers at single farms and in farm communities where input substrate materials and resulting digested residues are shared among member farms. A surplus benefit from this practice may be the suppressing of propagules from harmful biological pests like weeds and animal pathogens (e.g. parasites). In the present work, batch experiments were performed, where survival of seeds of seven species of weeds and non-embryonated eggs of the large roundworm of pigs, Ascaris suum, was assessed under conditions similar to biogas plants managed at meso- (37°C) and thermophilic (55°C) conditions. Cattle manure was used as digestion substrate and experimental units were sampled destructively over time. Regarding weed seeds, the effect of thermophilic conditions (55°C) was very clear as complete mortality, irrespective of weed species, was reached after less than 2 days. At mesophilic conditions, seeds of Avena fatua, Sinapsis arvensis, Solidago canadensis had completely lost germination ability, while Brassica napus, Fallopia convolvulus and Amzinckia micrantha still maintained low levels (∼1%) of germination ability after 1 week. Chenopodium album was the only weed species which survived 1 week at substantial levels (7%) although after 11d germination ability was totally lost. Similarly, at 55°C, no Ascaris eggs survived more than 3h of incubation. Incubation at 37°C did not affect egg survival during the first 48h and it took up to 10days before total elimination was reached. In general, anaerobic digestion in biogas plants seems an efficient way (thermophilic more efficient than mesophilic) to treat organic farm wastes in a way that suppresses animal parasites and weeds so that the digestates can be applied without risking spread of these pests.

Concepts: Archaea, Plant, Anaerobic digestion, Biogas, Sintex Digester, Manure, Thermophile, Mesophile


This study sought to evaluate the efficacy of aerobic and anaerobic composting of inoculated banana peels, and assess the agronomic value of banana peel-based compost. Changes in the chemical composition under aerobic and anaerobic conditions were examined for four formulations of banana peel-based wastes over a period of 12weeks. The formulations i.e. plain banana peel (B), and a mixture with either cow dung (BC), poultry litter (BP) or earthworm (BE) were separately composted under aerobic and anaerobic conditions under laboratory conditions. Inoculation with either cow dung or poultry litter significantly facilitated mineralization in the order: BP>BC>B. The rate of decomposition was significantly faster under aerobic than in anaerobic composting conditions. The final composts contained high K (>100gkg(-1)) and TN (>2%), indicating high potential as a source of K and N fertilizer.

Concepts: Nitrogen, Waste management, Humus, Compost, Composting, Manure, Anaerobic exercise, Vermicompost


ETHNOPHARMACOLOGICAL RELEVANCE: Red edible bird’s nests are regarded as of higher beneficial value for health and hence fetch a higher price than the white ones. Their red colour remains a myth. AIM OF THE STUDY: To determine if white edible bird’s nests can turn red by vapours generated from sodium nitrite in acidic conditions and by vapours from ‘bird soil’. MATERIALS AND METHODS: White edible bird’s nests were exposed to vapours from sodium nitrite dissolved in 2% HCl or from ‘bird soil’ in hot and humid conditions. CONCLUSIONS: Vapours from sodium nitrite dissolved in 2% HCl or from ‘bird soil’ containing guano droppings from swiftlet houses were able to turn white edible bird’s nests red. The reddening agent in ‘bird soil’ was water-soluble and heat-stable. The red colour of edible bird’s nests is likely caused by the environmental factors in cave interiors and swiftlet houses.

Concepts: Ammonia, Color, Green, Red, White, Primary color, Guano, Manure


We developed a quantitative real-time PCR assay to specificity detect and quantify the genus Alcaligenes in samples from the agricultural environment, such as vegetables and farming soils. The minimum detection sensitivity was 106 fg of pure culture DNA, corresponding to DNA extracted from two cells of A. faecalis. To evaluate the detection limit of A. faecalis, serially diluted genomic DNA from A. faecalis was mixed with DNA extracted from soil and vegetables, and then a standard curve was constructed. These results indicated that Alcaligenes species are present in the plant phytosphere at levels 10(2) -10(4) times lower than those in soil. Our approach will be useful for tracking or quantifying species of the genus Alcaligenes in the agricultural environment.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Biodiversity, Polymerase chain reaction, Organism, Species, Manure, Alcaligenes faecalis