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Ancistrus dolichopterus is a species of fish that is well known among aquarium owners because Ancistrus dolichopterus is always used to clean aquarium from algae. From this simple aquarium concept, emerged an idea to study the potential of Ancistrus dolichopterus as a biological solution to overcome algal bloom problems.
Ancistrus dolichopterus is a species in the family Loricariidae which belong to the Class Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes) and the Order Siluriformes. The common names of Ancistrus dolichopterus include Big Fin Bristlenose Catfish, Bluechin Xenocara, Bushveld Smallscale Yellowfish, and Bushymouth Catfish  . Its origin places are Amazon, Tapajos and Negro River Basins of South America  . The family Loricariidae has many species but most of them are already extinct and at the present time the major species that still exist is Ancistrus dolichopterus. In my country it is called as 'ikan majlis perbandaran' which means 'city council fish' because people claimed that it has been used by city councils in Malaysia to clean up drains in the cities.
Ancistrus dolichopterus might grow to a maximum length of 16 cm. On average, the length range from 14 to 16 cm  . Ancistrus dolichopterus is a fresh water fish and it can live in different types of environment. It can live in a wide range of pH that is about 6.8 to 8.6. Environment with slow water movement is the most preferred by the fish. At most of time, Ancistrus dolichopterus are found to live in shallow water and sometimes in muddy waters. It also love to hide under rocks, woods and anything that looks like a cave and this kind of environment encourage spawning activity of the species. Ancistrus dolichopterus are omnivores but algae are their major food other than fresh vegetable and wood  .
The sex of Ancistrus dolichopterus can be distinguished once they develop their bushy noses. The male has nose bristles while the female does not have bristles. In breeding process, the female laid 50 to 200 eggs in a cave like structure. The male will then take care of the eggs and its fry until they are old enough to live on their own. Ancistrus dolichopterus can live up to 12 years  . Compared to other species of the same family, this species can live longer in water with low oxygen level. It has the ability to use atmospheric air to compensate with the lack of oxygen in water  .
1.2) Blue-green algae
Blue-green algae or Cyanophyta are usually found at habitats where light is available and the condition is moist or wet. Their ability to resist adverse conditions such as dryness, high temperature and high salinity enable them to survive in situations which other organisms except bacteria cannot survive. Blue-green algae mostly are unicellular but they can aggregate together to form colonies. Blue-green algae carry out photosynthesis and oxygen is released during the process  .Blue-green algae usually have blue pigment that can mask the green colour of the algae's chlorophyll and this is the reason why they are called as blue-green algae. They multiply themselves by cell division and the resulting offspring stay together to form a colony. In some species, blue green algae can move by sliding along on a slime that they produce  .
Blue-green algae float on the surface of water because they have air vesicles within their cells. When the algae grow to a large number they can accumulate to form a thick layer called scum on the water surface. This phenomenon can be seen when blue-green algal bloom happen. There are three main causes of blue-green algal bloom. The first cause is high nutrient load which mainly come from fertilizers and sewages. Thermal stratification also is a factor of blue-green algal bloom. Sunlight heat the water surface and cause the top layer of water become hotter while the bottom layer become cooler and this prevent the top layer and the bottom layer from mixing together. This reduces the water flow and hence promotes the algal bloom. Other factors are low water flows, low wind and high temperature (in lakes and reservoirs wind and temperature plays a vital role to control the mixing of water )  .
Based on my general observations on Ancistrus dolichopterus and its role as algae eaters in aquariums, it can be deduced that this fish could help to reduce area covered with algae in aquatic sites. Thus, an experiment was planned to study how does the presence of Ancistrus dolichopterus affect the area covered with algae and the percentage coverage of algae in a 15x15x5cmÂ³ container. Besides that, it is also meant to compare the effectiveness of normal Ancistrus dolichopterus with the albino one in reducing the area covered with algae. It is expected in this experiment that normal Ancistrus dolichopterus will have higher rate of reduction of area covered with algae compared to the albino Ancistrus dolichopterus. In overall, the hypothesis of this research is the presence of Ancistrus dolichopterus will reduce area covered with algae by a significant amount expressed by the rate of reduction of area covered with algae.
3.0) METHOD DEVELOPMENT AND PLANNING
In order to test the hypothesis made, an experiment was planned to investigate how presence of Ancistrus dolichopterus affects the area and percentage coverage of blue-green algae. There are a few things to be highlighted in this planning which are stated below:
3.1) Quantity and type of Ancistrus dolichopterus to be used in the experiment
A few aquarium shops were visited to ask about Ancistrus dolichopterus. Majority of the shops sell normal Ancistrus dolichopterus which is black in colour but there is one shop that also sells albino Ancistrus dolichopterus. The availability of both normal and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus in the market gives a good chance for me to do my research on both types of fish and then there might be some useful comparison that could be made regarding the normal and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus.
One unit of each normal and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus were bought so that it will be easier to monitor the experiment by using only one unit of normal Ancistrus dolichopterus and one unit of albino Ancistrus dolichopterus. Besides that, the apparatus and other physical facilities that available in the experiment are limited and not enough to be used to study a large number of Ancistrus dolichopterus. Hence, one unit of each type of Ancistrus dolichopterus is suitable for the experiment.
3.2) Source of blue-green algae and method used to collect the algae
Blue-green algae are frequently found at lakes, ponds and drains. The most accessible source of blue-green algae at my place is drains. A drain is detected and is believed to be the most suitable source site of blue-green algae for the experiment by considering its accessibility to blue-green algae and its safeties from dangerous animal such as snakes.
However there is a problem of transferring the algae from the drain into the containers which will be used later in the experiment. On my first trial, a spoon is used to collect the blue-green algae and put them into a container which was readily filled with water. It is not as easy as what has been expected. Only a very small quantity of blue-green algae were managed to be collected in the container. The small quantity of algae was insufficient because it could not provide satisfied observations in the experiment. This problem of getting enough quantity of algae occurred because the blue-green algae have cohesive and adhesive properties which make it always adhere to the spoon used.
To overcome this problem, another way to transfer the algae is done. Plastic plates were used to collect the algae. The plates fit the size of the base of the container. By using the plates, it was easier to collect the algae because once the plates were dipped into the drain, the blue-green algae immediately adhere to the plates and cover almost all parts of the plate's surface. When the algae are going to be transferred into the container, the plates were sunk to the bottom of the container by using a stick. The blue-green algae then no longer stick to the plate. They float to the surface of the water.
From the observations and the graphs and chart, all sets in the experiment show decrease in algae coverage and percentage coverage of algae after 5 days. However, in earlier it was expected that algae coverage and percentage coverage will only change in the set with the presence of normal Ancistrus dolichopterus and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus while the algae coverage and percentage coverage of algae in the control set will remain constant along the experiment. However the graph shows that there is a slight decrease in the algae coverage and percentage coverage of algae in the control set from day1 to day2 and from day 2 to day 3. The slight change may be due to some limitations of this experiment which will be discussed later in this research paper.
By referring to graph of algae coverage against time, it is noted that from day 1 to day 2 there are decrease of algae coverage in all the sets and the set with presence of albino Ancistrus dolichopterus shows the sharpest decline followed by normal Ancistrus dolichopterus set and the control set. This indicates that albino Ancistrus dolichopterus eat more algae compared to normal Ancistrus dolichopterus during that interval. The otherwise happen from day 2 to day 3 where the set with presence of normal Ancistrus dolichopterus shows the sharpest decline in the algae coverage followed by albino Ancistrus dolichopterus set and the control set. This observation does not necessarily means that during the period from day 2 to day 3, Ancistrus dolichopterus eat more algae compared to albino Ancistrus dolichopterus. This is because on the amount of algae is limited and on the third day, all the algae in the sets with presence of Ancistrus dolichopterus was totally consumed. From day 3 onwards, the algae coverage in all sets remains constant. The algae still present in the control set until the end of the experiment while the algae in the sets with normal and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus were no longer present. This indicates that in this experiment, algae cannot loss by itself without been influenced from other organism and this observation also confirmed that reduce in the algae coverage is caused by the presence of normal Ancistrus dolichopterus and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus. Graph of percentage coverage of algae against time share the same explanation with the graph of algae coverage against time since the variables of both graphs proportionate to each other.
Bar chart showing the rate of reduction of algae coverage is essential to analyze the effectiveness of Ancistrus dolichopterus in reducing the algae coverage and percentage coverage of algae. Rate of reduction of algae coverage is the highest in the set with presence of albino Ancistrus dolichopterus that is 58.88 cmÂ²dayÖ¿Â¹ followed by normal Ancistrus dolichopterus, 46.69 cmÂ²dayÖ¿Â¹. Rate of reduction of algae coverage indicates the effectiveness of the Ancistrus dolichopterus in reducing the algae coverage and percentage coverage of algae. Hence, albino Ancistrus dolichopterus is more effective compared to normal Ancistrus dolichopterus because it has higher rate of reduction of algae coverage. Rate of reduction of algae coverage in the control set is zero because until the end of the experiment, the algae coverage remained 157.50 cmÂ² and it seems that it is impossible for the algae coverage to have further decrease or to totally loss.
Besides that, analysis on the qualitative data also gives some significant outcomes. First, it has been observed that starting from day 3, a little amount of algae has changed colour from green to brown. The phenomena happen because the chloroplasts of the algae were loss. Then the algae dead because of the absent of chloroplast. This may due to lack of nutrient obtained by the algae from the tank because during the experiment, the algae were not supplied with any source of nutrient. Lack of sunlight cannot be considered as the reason because in the experiment the algae receive the same exposure of sunlight as what they receive in their original habitat.
11.0) EVALUATION, LIMITATION AND SUGGESTION
There are some limitations in the experiment that might contribute to inaccuracy of the data obtained. Firstly is the container used does not have fix perimeter of its horizontal cross-section. The base of the container is smaller than the opening of the container. So, as the tap water in the container evaporates and become lesser, the area of water surface will no longer be the same as the area of the opening of the container and the area of quadrat used that is 225cmÂ². The number of square grids counted using the quadrat then will not be accurate because the area of quadrat does not fit the area of the water surface. to overcome this problem the water level must be fixed at the opening of the container along the experiment. To do this, the water level is always been monitored from time to time by adding more tap water into the container when the water level was detected to be lower than the opening of the container.
Another limitation is there is a possibility that the Ancistrus dolichopterus used does not behave in its natural way. This may happen because the plastic container and the tap water do not completely provide the preferred condition as in their natural habitat. The possible problem regarding this limitation is the eating habits of Ancistrus dolichopterus might be different from usual and this will then cause the rate of reduction of area covered with algae obtained in this experiment to be unreliable. To overcome this problem, there is an improvement could be done to the planning of the experiment. Some alterations should be done to the container used to provide better preferred conditions to Ancistrus dolichopterus. As example, muddy sands and cave like structures should be put in the container. Other than that, the use of river water instead of tap water is believed to be more suitable in the experiment.
Besides that, the distribution of blue-green algae in the container sometimes was disturbed either by the careless handling of the container or by air movements. It is important to make sure that the distribution of blue-green algae was not disturbed because the distribution of blue-green algae might affect the number of square grids covered with algae. The number of square grids covered with algae must be totally influenced by consumption of the algae by Ancistrus dolichopterus so that the rate of reduction of area covered with algae will be accurate. Considering this, a way is found to avoid air movement from altering the distribution of blue-green algae. The container is closed with a transparent sheet of plastic so that air movement at surroundings will not affect the blue-green algae on the water surface. However there is a possibility that the distribution of blue-green algae is disturbed by careless handling of the container. To overcome this problem, it is suggested that, the container should be handled carefully to minimize the water movement and change in the distribution of algae. It is also suggested that the place chosen to do the experiment is far from any moving objects.
Other than that, the size and age of normal Ancistrus dolichopterus and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus is not completely same. It is observed that the albino Ancistrus dolichopterus is bigger than the normal Ancistus dolichopterus. The different in size and age might affect the eating habit of Ancistrus dolichopterus. This might cause the rate of reduction of area covered with algae to be inaccurate. To minimize this possible effect, there are a few steps should be done. Normal Ancistrus dolichopterus and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus that have the most similar age and size should be chosen to be use in the experiment. Besides that, it is also suggested that the experiment is repeated for a few times by using different individuals of normal Ancistrus dolichopterus and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus that have the same size and age. This might help to reduce the fallacies that might occur due to different in size and age of the species.
The results of the experiment lead to a conclusion that the presence of Ancistrus dolichopterus will reduce the area covered with algae and percentage coverage of algae in a container with normal Ancistrus dolichopterus reduces 46.688cmÂ² blue green algae per day and albino Ancistrus dolichopterus reduces 58.875cmÂ² blue-green algae per day.
The significance of this conclusion is it shows that there is a potential for Ancistrus dolichopterus to be used as the biological control to overcome algal-bloom problem. Through simple calculation it is estimated that a population of 200 Ancistrus dolichopterus can clear a 1mÂ² of algal-bloom area in a day. Although there are many other solutions to algal-bloom problem, the potential of this species to be a biological solution to overcome the problem should not be neglected. This is because biological solution is undoubtedly could help to avoid pollution to the environment.
This research need to be followed by further investigation since it only focuses on the effectiveness of Ancistrus dolichopterus in term of rate of reduction of area covered with algae. Other aspects should be investigated in further research to measure the suitability of Ancistrus dolichopterus to be used as biological control to algal-bloom problem.
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