Ostroumov S. A. The Concept of Aquatic Biota as a Labile and Vulnerable Component of the Water Self-Purification System.- Doklady Biological Sciences, 2000, 372: 286–289

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Published: Ostroumov S. A. The Concept of Aquatic Biota as a Labile and Vulnerable Component of the Water Self-Purification System. Doklady Biological Sciences, 2000, Vol. 372, p. 286–289. Translated from Doklady Akademii Nauk, Vol. 372, No. 2, 2000, pp. 279–282. Original Russian Text Copyright © 2000 by Ostroumov.


 The Concept of Aquatic Biota as a Labile and Vulnerable Component of the Water Self-Purification System

S. A. Ostroumov

Presented by Academician V.N. Bol’shakov June 1, 1999 Received June 24, 1999  

 Self-purification of water is a complex process including physical, chemical, and biological components [1–3]. The vulnerability of different components of the water self-purification system to anthropogenic factors is as yet insufficiently understood.

The goal of this work was to review the literature and our own unpublished experimental findings concerning potential vulnerability of the biotic component of the water self-purification system to chemical pollutants.

Table 1. Some factors and processes involved in water self-purification (after [2, 3, 9] and other publications)

No. of factor

Factors and processes involved in water self-purification

























Solution and dilution

Drift over coast

Migration to nearby waters

Sorption by suspended particles and subsequent sedimentation

Sorption by bottom deposits




Photochemical conversion

Catalytic redox conversion

Free radical reactions

Decrease in contaminant toxicity as a result of binding to dissolved organic compounds (DOCs)

Chemical oxidation of contaminants by oxygen


Sorption and accumulation of contaminants and biogenic agents by hydrobionts

Biotransformation: redox reactions, destruction, and conjugation

Extracellular enzymatic transformation of contaminants

Removal of suspended particles and contaminants from bulk water as a result of water filtration by hydrobionts

Removal of contaminants from bulk water as a result of sorption by pellets excreted by hydrobionts

Prevention or delay of the process of escape of contaminants and biogenic agents from bottom deposits to water

Biotransformation and sorption of soil contaminants formed as a result of watering with contaminated water


Note: Many factors are interdependent and overlap with each other; in many cases it is impossible to isolate individual factors, and they are considered as individual factors only to illustrate the conceptual analysis.  


Table 2. Examples of possible effects of contaminants on the factors and processes involved in water self-purification (including data obtained by S.A. Ostroumov)


Parameters of surrounding medium, ecosystem, and its components important for implementing the functions listed in Table 1 (see numbers of corresponding items)

The influence of medium contamination by various agents, including surfactant, on water self-purification and relevant ecosystem parameters















































Hydrological characteristics; hydrodynamic processes (water exchange etc.)

Organic carbon (C org ) content in deposits; mixing rate pH


Permeation of visible light and UV radiation

Concentration of ions, metal complexes, and suspended particles

Content of OH-radicals


Content of hydrogen peroxide



Redox state of medium


Content of Cu ions




Content and composition of DOC


Content of oxygen dissolved in water


Count and composition of hydrobionts, surface properties of hydrobionts, content of DOCs and suspended particles bound competitively to contaminants

Microbial cell count

Count and composition of hydrobionts capable of excreting enzymes into the surrounding medium

Count and composition of filtrating hydrobionts

Count and composition of hydrobionts capable of excreting pellets; rate of their feeding; rate of water filtration

Phytobenthos, bacteriobenthos




Composition and activity of soil organisms; function of root system of plants

Contaminants can reduce the rate of water mixing by filtrators, because surfactant inhibits biofiltration ([3, 12] and unpublished data)

Contaminants can be transported by being absorbed or accumulated by plankton, biogenic particles, and biogenic sediments. Surfactant can exert effects on plankton [4–7]

Contaminants, including surfactant, inhibit biofiltration [3], thereby decreasing the pellet formation rate and C org accumulation in bottom deposits

Contamination may change pH both directly and as a result of photosynthesis modification

Contaminants inhibit biofiltration [3, 12, 13], thereby increasing medium turbidity

Contamination changes metal concentration and speciation; biofiltration disorders [3, 12] change the content of suspended particles

Contaminants affect plankton, thereby changing the content of OH-radicals; surfactant can either inhibit or stimulate algae and cyanobacteria [4–7]

Contaminants affect both count and composition of plankton cells, thereby changing the rates of H 2 O 2 evolution and decay

Depends on the rate of exometabolite production by hydrobionts; contaminants may affect hydrobionts

Contaminants can reduce the rate of water mixing by filtrators, because surfactant inhibits biofiltration ([3, 12] and unpublished data)

DOC are formed mainly from organic substances excreted by hydrobionts; hydrobiont functions are sensitive to contaminants

Contaminants, including surfactant, exert effects on phytoplankton (photosynthesis and oxygen evolution)

Depend on various parameters of aquatic medium, including its pollution, presence of biogenic agents, oxygen concentration, rates of mixing and bio- filtration. Surfactant affects green algae [5, 6] and cyanobacteria [4, 5]


The same




Contaminants inhibit activity of biofiltrators; surfactant may inhibit filtration by mollusks [12]

Contaminants may change the ecosystem parameters and hydrobiont activity. Surfactant may inhibit filtration by hydrobionts [12]


By inhibiting water biofiltration, contaminants can cause a decrease in the rate of plankton and DOC uptake from water and an increase in the water turbidity, thereby decreasing the level of bottom illumination and phytobenthos growth

Contaminants, including surfactant, can inhibit soil algae and microorganisms [5] and suppress development of plant root systems [9–11]


The data summarized in Table 1 illustrate a significant role of biological processes in the water self-purification system. The efficiency of many abiotic processes shown in Table 1 (e.g., oxidation of various compounds by oxygen, photochemical reactions, etc.) depends on the parameters of water medium, which are themselves largely determined by the aquatic biota activity. For example, the rate of O 2 evolution and production of organic substances by photosynthesizing organisms, rate of water filtration by aquatic invertebrates, etc., are very important for effective self-purification of water. On the other hand, the functional activity and state of hydrobiont populations are substantially affected by pollutants. These effects were observed in our studies on cyanobacteria [4], green algae [5, 6], diatomic algae [7], flagellata [8], vascular plants [9– 11], and invertebrates [12, 13] exposed to synthetic surfactants. Similar effects were observed by other authors in Mytilus edulis treated with pesticides [14].

Various effects of contaminants on the aquatic organisms involved in water self-purification are shown in Table 2.

Many groups of hydrobionts contributing to the functional systems of water self-purification are themselves vulnerable to water pollution (Table 3).

Table 3. Components of water self-purification system vulnerable to contaminants (certain examples) [3–13] (new experimental findings obtained in collaboration with P. Donkin and R. Weiner are shown)


Organisms as components of water self-purification system

Types of water self-purification processes sensitive to these organisms (numbers as in Tables 1, 2)

Examples of pollutant-induced effects on representatives of these groups of organisms









Bacteria (heterotrophic)



Green algae

Diatomic algae

Flagellata (Euglena)

Vascular plants


3.2, 3.3


2.4, 2.6, 3.2

2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 3.1

2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 3.1

2.6, 3.1, 3.2

2.5,2.6, 3.1, 3.6

1.5, 2.2, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6


TX-100 (1–50 mg/l) inhibited growth of

Hyphomonas MHS-3 and VP-6

[4, 5]

[5, 6]



[5, 9–11]

SDS (1–4 mg/l) and TX-100 (0.5–4 mg/l) inhibited water filtration and phytoplankton uptake by Mytilus edulis; TDTMA (0.5 mg/l) inhibited water filtration by Brachionus angularis [12, 13]


Note: (SDS) sodium dodecylsulfate; (TX-100) Triton X-100; (TDTMA) tetradecyltrimethylammonium bromide.  

An important concept inferred from the literature and our experimental findings assumes that an aggregate of aquatic organisms (aquatic biota) is a labile and potentially vulnerable component of the water selfpurification system in aquatic ecosystems. This interpretation of the role of aquatic biota is consistent with the data on the anthropogenic impact on the water selfpurification system studied by other researchers [9]. This concept leads to substantial changes in the hierarchy of priorities underlying the principles of protection of biodiversity and environment, including the principles of environmental regulation.

The principles of environmental regulation are based on such important quantitative characteristics as maximum allowable concentrations (MACs) of various pollutants in fish farming water bodies; sources of industrial, drinking, and household water; etc. According to the concept suggested in this work, the MACs for specific substances should be established after a more thorough study taking into account the possible effects on the water self-purification system. In addition to the potential hazard to the microbial component of the water self-purification system, a possible effect on other organisms (e.g., benthos filer feeders) should be taken into consideration. It should be emphasized that both inhibiting and stimulating effects of sublethal concentrations of pollutants are dangerous, because either of them may cause an imbalance in the complicated system of water self-purification (Tables 1, 2).

The concept suggested in this work heightens the level of priority of the sublethal effects of pollutants. The sublethal effects associated with changes in the levels of the functional activity of hydrobiont populations may cause an imbalance in the system of water self-purification.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.  I am grateful to researchers of the Department of Hydrobiology, (Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University), as well as V.V. Malakhov, V.N. Maksimov, A.O. Kasumyan, S.V. Kotelevtsev and other colleagues for their stimulating discussion. This study was supported by the MacArthur Foundation (the program for individual research grants).


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(added when the paper was put at the website)

After publishing this paper, the author published a series of publications, in which he reported the results of  many new  experiments. The new data confirmed the main conclusions of this paper.  A number of the  publications see below:

The list of some publications by Dr. S.A. Ostroumov in English:

1.      Ostroumov S. A. An aquatic ecosystem: a large-scale diversified bioreactor with a water self-purification function.- Doklady Biological Sciences, 2000. Vol. 374, P. 514-516.  http://sites.google.com/site/2000dbs374p514bioreactor/

2.      Ostroumov S. A. An amphiphilic substance inhibits the mollusk capacity to filter out phytoplankton cells from water. - Biology Bulletin, 2001, Volume 28, Number 1, p. 95-102.

3.      Ostroumov SA. The synecological approach to the problem of eutrophication. - Dokl Biol Sci. (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2001; 381:559-562. 

4.      Ostroumov SA. The hazard of a two-level synergism of synecological summation of anthropogenic effects. - Dokl Biol Sci. (Doklady Biological Sciences).  2001; 380:499-501. 

5.      Ostroumov SA. Responses of Unio tumidus to mixed chemical preparations and the hazard of synecological summation of anthropogenic effects.  - Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2001; 380: 492-495.

6.      Ostroumov SA, Kolesnikov MP. Pellets of some mollusks in the biogeochemical flows of C, N, P, Si, and Al. - Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2001; 379:378-381.

7.      Ostroumov SA. Imbalance of factors providing control of unicellular plankton populations exposed to anthropogenic impact. - Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2001; 379:341-343.

8.       Ostroumov SA. Effect of amphiphilic chemicals on filter-feeding marine organisms.-  Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2001; 378:248-250.

9.      Ostroumov S. A. Inhibitory analysis of top-down control: new keys to studying eutrophication, algal blooms, and water self-purification  // Hydrobiologia. 2002. vol. 469.  P.117-129..

10.  Ostroumov S. A. Polyfunctional role of biodiversity in processes leading to water purification: current conceptualizations and  concluding remarks // Hydrobiologia. 2002. v. 469 (1-3): P.203-204.  .

11.  Ostroumov SA.  Identification of a new type of ecological hazard of chemicals: inhibition of processes of ecological remediation. -  Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2002; 385:377-379. 

12.   Ostroumov SA. System of principles for conservation of the biogeocenotic function and the biodiversity of filter-feeders. - Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2002; 383:147-150.

13.  Ostroumov SA.  A new type of effect of potentially hazardous substances: uncouplers of pelagial-benthal coupling. - Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2002; 383:127-130.

14.  Ostroumov SA. Biodiversity protection and quality of water: the role of feedbacks in ecosystems. -  Dokl Biol Sci (Doklady Biological Sciences). 2002; 382:18-21.

15.  Ostroumov S. A. Studying effects of some surfactants and detergents on filter-feeding bivalves  // Hydrobiologia. 2003. Vol. 500. P. 341-344.

16.  Ostroumov SA. Anthropogenic effects on the biota: towards a new system of principles and criteria for analysis of ecological hazards.- Riv Biol. 2003; 96(1):159-169. Review.  PMID: 12852181 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

17.  Ostroumov SA, Walz N, Rusche R. Effect of a cationic amphiphilic compound on rotifers. - Dokl Biol Sci. (Doklady Biological Sciences) 2003; 390: 252-255.

18.  Ostroumov S. A. On the biotic self-purification of aquatic ecosystems: elements of the theory. - Doklady Biological Sciences, 2004, Vol. 396, Numbers 1-6, p. 206-211.

19.  Ostroumov S. A. Suspension-feeders as factors influencing water quality in aquatic ecosystems. -  In: The Comparative Roles of Suspension-Feeders in Ecosystems, R.F. Dame,  S. Olenin (Eds),  Springer, Dordrecht,  2004.  p.  147-164.

20.  Ostroumov S. A. Some aspects of water filtering activity of filter-feeders // Hydrobiologia, 2005.  Vol. 542, No. 1. P. 275 – 286 .

21.  Ostroumov S. A. On some issues of maintaining water quality and self-purification. - Water Resources. 2005,Volume 32, Number 3,  p. 305-313.

22.  Ostroumov S. A. On the multifunctional role of the biota in the self-purification of aquatic ecosystems // Russian Journal of Ecology, Vol. 36, No. 6, 2005, p. 414–420.

23.  Ostroumov S. A. Biomachinery for maintaining water quality and natural water self-purification in  marine and estuarine systems: elements of a qualitative theory //  International Journal of Oceans and Oceanography.  2006.  Volume 1, No.1. p.111-118. [ISSN 0973-2667]. Publisher: Research India Publications, Dehli].  Basic elements are formulated for a qualitative theory of the polyfunctional role of the biota in maintaining self-purification and water quality in aquatic ecosystems. The elements of the theory covers the following: (1) sources of energy for the mechanisms of selfpurification; (2) the main functional blocks of the system of self-purification; (3) the list of the main processes that are involved; (4) analysis of the degree of participation of the main large taxons; (5) degree of reliability and the main mechanisms providing the reliability; (6) regulation of the processes; (7) the response of the system towards the external influences (man-made impacts); (8) the analogy between ecosystems and a bioreactor; and (9) conclusions relevant to the practice of biodiversity conservation. In support of the theory, results are given of the author's experiments which demonstrated the ability of some pollutants (surfactants, detergents, and some others) to inhibit the water filtration activity of marine filter-feeders (namely, the bivalve mollusks Mytilus galloprovincialis, Mytilus edulis, and Crassostrea gigas).

24.  Ostroumov S. A.,  J. Widdows.  Inhibition of mussel suspension feeding by surfactants of  three classes. // Hydrobiologia. 2006. Vol. 556, No. 1. Pages: 381 – 386.  [Effects of SDS, TDTMA, and Triton X-100 on M. edulis and M. edulis / M. galloprovincialis. Effects of three surfactants on the filtration rates by marine mussels were studied. The xenobiotics tested represented anionic, cationic and non-ionic surfactants (tetradecyltrimethylammonium bromide, a representative of a class of cationic surfactants; sodium dodecyl sulphate, a representative of anionic alkyl sulfates; and Triton X-100, a representative of non-ionic hydroxyethylated alkyl phenols). All three surfactants inhibited the clearance rates. The significance of the results for the ecology of marine ecosystems is discussed].  http://sites.google.com/site/3surfactantsfiltrationmytilus/

25.  Ostroumov S. A. Biological Effects of Surfactants. CRC Press. Taylor & Francis. Boca Raton, London, New York. 2006. 279 p. ISBN 0-8493-2526-9.

26.  Ostroumov S. A. Biotic self-purification of aquatic ecosystems: from the theory to ecotechnologies. - Ecologica, 2007. vol. 15 (50), p.15-23. (ISSN 0354-3285; Belgrade). Some basic elements of a new theory for the biological mechanism for water self-purification are presented. Hydrobionts (aquatic organisms) are actively involved in various processes leading to water purification. Not only microorganisms (bacteria, cyanobacteria and fungi), but also algae, plants, invertebrates, and many other groups of organisms are involved, which is discussed and analyzed in the paper. Results of the author's experiments that study the effects of various pollutants on aquatic organisms (freshwater and marine bivalves) are given. The theory is an innovative basis for developing ecological technologies to clean water and to upgrade its quality by using organisms and ecosystems [http://scindeks.nb.rs/article.aspx?artid=0354-32850750015O].

27.  Ostroumov S. A. Basics of the molecular-ecological mechanism of water quality formation and water self-purification.- Contemporary Problems of Ecology, 2008, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 147-152.

28.  Vorozhun I. M., S. A. Ostroumov. On studying the hazards of pollution of the biosphere: effects of sodium dodecylsulfate (SDS) on planktonic filter-feeders. - Doklady Biological Sciences, 2009, Vol. 425, p. 133–134. 

29.  Solomonova E.A., S.A. Ostroumov. Tolerance of an aquatic macrophyte Potamogeton crispus L. to sodium dodecyl sulphate. - Moscow University Biological Sciences Bulletin. 2007. Volume 62, Number 4. p. 176-179.

30.  Lazareva E. V., Ostroumov  S. A. Accelerated decrease in surfactant concentration in the water of a microcosm in the presence of plants: innovations for phytotechnology. - Doklady Biological Sciences, 2009, Vol. 425, pp. 180–182. 

31.  Ostroumov S.A., Shestakova T.V. Decreasing the measurable concentrations of Cu, Zn, Cd, and Pb in the water of the experimental systems containing Ceratophyllum demersum: The phytoremediation potential // Doklady Biological Sciences 2009, Vol. 428, No. 1, p. 444-447. http://sites.google.com/site/9dbs444/


additional references of relevant publications see: