Microbial population dynamics during windrow composting of broiler litter
Myburgh, Pieter Hermanus
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South Africa produces an average of 154 million broilers (Gallus gallus domesticus) annually, arising to an estimated 886 million kg of broiler litter. The largest population of broilers are reared in the North West province. Various applications for this largely underexploited resource have been published, including forming part of ruminant diets and direct land application. This however has several disadvantages, as it could lead to eutrophication of fresh water sources and faecal contamination of produce. Windrow composting of broiler litter has previously been studied, and found to deliver a stabilized product free of pathogenic and phytotoxic effects, therefore making it an excellent soil conditioner. This study aimed to characterize the microbial community present during the windrow composting of broiler litter. Four different formulations of substrate were tested; these being broiler litter (Windrow 1), Windrow 1 with previously composted material (Windrow 2), Windrow 2 amended with woodchips (Windrow 3) and Windrow 3 with an additional 12.5% (w/w) zeolite (Windrow 4). Broiler litter used in this experiment had a C:N ration of 10.3:1, whilst the blue gum woodchips added as an amendment had a C:N ratio of 172:1. Windrow and environmental temperatures were monitored on a regular basis. Windrow 1 largely mimicked environmental temperature, and could not sustain a true thermophilic phase during the experimental period. Windrow 2 did achieve a short lived thermophilic phase during the first few days of the composting process, however could not sustain its temperature over the whole period. In contrast Windrows 3 and 4 sustained temperature above 40°C for the largest part of the experimental period, regardless of environmental temperature. No significant difference (p < 0.05) could be observed between average moisture levels in the 4 windrows. Internal moisture profiles were however found to differ significantly, especially on the surface of the windrows. Moisture was also lost faster in Windrows 1 and 2 compared to Windrows 3 and 4. Chemical analysis showed differences between the four windrows constructed. A higher amount of nitrogen was lost in Windrows 1 and 2, mostly due to a sub-optimal initial C:N ratio in these windrows. Windrow 2 contained the highest values for plant nutrients P, Mg, Ca, Mn and Cu. Microbial population dynamics were observed using PCR-DGGE of samples collected throughout the composting of various treatments. Various commercial DNA extraction kits where tested in a previous study for their ability to remove PCR inhibitory substances, such as humic acids. The Machery-Nagel Soil DNA isolation kit was used as it gave amplifiable DNA from all samples. Samples were amplified using a nested PCR approach primer sets 27f-1492r \ 341f(GC)-907r and EF3-EF4 \ EF4(GC)-fung5 (where “GC” indicates a GC-rich clamp) for prokaryotic and eukaryotic species respectively. The PCR products were analyzed by agarose gel electrophoresis, and equal amounts of product were subjected to denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). Bands obtained from these polyacrylamide gels where then re-amplified using the same secondary primer sets (without the GC-clamp), and sequenced. A total of 454 prokaryotic bands in 55 distinct rf-positions were observed. Seven distinct rf-positions were observed in eukaryotic DGGE profiles. Prokaryotic profiles were aligned and the microbial diversity was analyzed by means of Ward’s clustering algorithm and the dice coefficient of similarity, as well as Simpson’s reciprocal, Shannon-Weaver and Species richness indices. Canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) was also performed on both the banding patterns as well as the bands present, together with the physico-chemical results obtained. Several bands were successfully identified as being influenced by physico-chemical parameters. Temperature, C:N ratio, ash, and moisture showed a correlation on CCA bi-plots. Sixteen bands were sequence identified. These sequences were compared to two different databases. The 16S rRNA database for Bacteria and Archaea gave identities to genus level, however maximum identity scores were low. Of the 16 sequences, 12 sequences were identified as uncultured bacteria when compared to the nucleotide collection database. In comparing the sequences with sequences collected in the nucleotide collection database, 12 were either first described in composts and soils, or animal manures. Results indicated mostly members of the genus Bacillus and Paenibacillus. The addition of a carbon source greatly affected the microbial metabolism, resulting in a thermophilic phase being achieved in amended windrows. As no thermophilic phase was observed in windrows that were not amended with woodchips, it could be concluded that the use of a carbon source is irremissible when composting broiler litter. A zeolite amendment is also strongly advised, as this further increased temperatures within the windrow.