EFFECTS OF AMMONIA ON GROWTH AND METABOLISM IN TILAPIA, OREOCHROMIS NILOTICUS
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Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is an important species in the expansion of aquaculture, which supplements strained natural fish stocks worldwide. Although nitrogen accumulation in aquaculture has been documented as hazardous, recent studies have highlighted its potential to positively affect fish growth. The current study investigates the growth and oxygen consumption of juvenile Nile tilapia exposed to high (sub-lethal) and low levels of total water ammonia (TAmm). The first series of experiments aimed to determine the effects of high TAmm toxicity on indicators of metabolic rate and whole-body growth. Results of non-acclimation exposures to ammonia suggest that high levels of TAmm (1000, 2000 and 4000 μM) negatively affect oxygen consumption and ventilation rates, with reduced respiratory efficiency at 4000 μM. This effect on oxygen consumption was not present after a 48hr acclimation period to TAmm concentrations. Tilapia grown under the TAmm treatment conditions had significantly reduced weight and length after 84 days at concentrations of 2000 and 4000 μM. The second series of experiments investigated metabolic rate and growth under conditions of low-level TAmm (75, 150, 300, 600, 1200 and 2400 μM) to determine potential positive effects on growth. The results of these experiments indicated that oxygen consumption was reduced in non-acclimated fish at concentrations of 75, 150 and 300 μM, which were therefore examined in subsequent growth experiments. This oxygen consumption reduction was not present after 48hrs of ammonia acclimation. Tilapia grown at low TAmm (≤300 μM) did not exhibit significant differences in weight, length, condition factor or specific growth rate within the 56-day experiment. This study demonstrates that high levels of TAmm significantly impair tilapia whole-body growth. Furthermore, low levels of TAmm (≤300 μM) do not appear to affect growth. In both series, an initial reduction in metabolic rate was noted in non-acclimated fish, but was not present after 48hr TAmm acclimation. While fish “recovered” from initial effects of high TAmm on oxygen consumption and ventilation, significant negative effects on growth were noted. This study suggests that tilapia adapt to the initial effects of TAmm through a process that, at high levels, is energetically costly and compromises growth.