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Ammonia - an algae starter?

_Maq_

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It is often believed that ammonia provokes algae infestation. Personally, I think it' untrue. I've made some small experiments targeted on this issue. I regularly fertilize with ammonia. Naturally, algae do appear in my tanks, but I've never found a correlation between ammonia and algae.
Besides, I've read many scientific papers on environmental topics. There is definitely a correlation between eutrophication (N & P) and algae growth. But I've never read any notion that ammonia would be more harmful, i.e. algae-supporting, than any other form of nitrogen.
Now, I'd like to invite you to discussing this topic. In your experience, have you encountered algae problems in clear connection with ammonia? Or, have you found any scientific treatise which confirms this hypothesis?
 

_Maq_

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Algae and plants expend less energy using ammonia/ammonium compared with nitrate, as I understand it.
That's an undisputed fact. In theory, at least. In reality, more factors are at play. Sometimes uptaking nitrate is more advantageous for the plant.
 

erwin123

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Maq, if you read the previous discussions in aquarium fert dosing section (look for those threads with multiple pages), I think you'll see that the general UKAPS consensus is that ferts don't cause algae.


However, there are some users who have referred us to the Tropica website... maybe you can e-mail Tropica to ask them about dosing Ammonium and algae growth:
Specialised Nutrition contains nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). Dosage must therefore be adapted to plant absorption rates, to avoid undesirable algae growth. Where signs of algae growth develop, reduce the dosage by 50% and increase water changing frequency by 50%. Changing the water not only reduces the concentration of nutrients in the water, but also removes algae spores, remnants and other accumulated elements from the aquarium water.

 
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_Maq_

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So, perhaps @plantnoobdude is an exception within this forum. The ammonia theory is widely believed elsewhere, incl. my country.
Thanks, @erwin123 , I'll definitely go through the threads you've linked.
 
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erwin123

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So, perhaps @plantnoobdude is an exception within this forum. The ammonia theory is widely believed elsewhere, incl. my country.
Thanks, @erwin123 , I'll definitely go though the threads you've linked.
Like I said, the thread is talking about Tropica Specialised Fert, and the webpage of the Fert says you should reduce dosage when there is algae. Can you blame people for giving the same advice as the Tropica Website?

As for plantnoobdude, I think he's exceptional in this forum because he regularly posts photos of his tank and provides lot of details of his dosing regime which is very useful for those who have similar plants. (eg: Ammannia Pedicatella may have different requirements compared to other plants). It gives his posts a lot of credibility. And when I looked at his exact words, he never said that Ammnonia causes algae. This is what he said, I and agree with it:

While it is probably not the sole cause I very much think it could be contributing to the algae growth. Reduced dosing along with increased general maintenance should help.

looking at the thread, the tank is 55l and not heavily planted, but the user is adding more than double the manufacturer's recommended dose. (he's dosing 14ml- 17.5ml of Tropica Specialised a week - each pump is between 2-2.5ml) I really don't see any harm reducing the ferts in this case. For reference, I'm dosing 7ml of APT EI and 3.5ml of Tropical Specialised weekly into a 182litre tank (90P) 😅



also check out:
 
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tiger15

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I believe Tom Barr originated the idea that ammonia triggers algae. He reported conducting experiments that proved dosing ammonia caused algae, but not nitrate or phosphate. Dennis Wong concurred with Barr's finding in his algae discussion. It's common observation that sudden increase in ammonia from dead fish and plants, or new set ups before cycling are algae magnet.
 

plantnoobdude

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I think when talking about algae, instead of using language such as “caused” it is better to use words such as “influence”.
It goes back to not really being able to pinpoint what causes algae. If you increase light, and suddenly get an algae bloom, is more light the cause of algae? No, since you could increase co2, fertiliser to compensate and have an algae free tank.
I personally have seen that when I have gda I can get rid of most of it by ceasing nitrogen (nh4no3) and phosphorous dosing, I continue with regular potassium and micro dosing. The gda starts melting and disappearing in patches. In fact I think I have a photo of this. B5530494-8F46-4090-B047-244A3E3FBE8D.jpeg
Do nutrients influence algae? Certainly. But we cannot say they cause or don’t cause algae. The same way we cannot say EI levels of micros are toxic or not, I believe pikes said this in his rotala kill tank thread.
 

John q

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believe Tom Barr originated the idea that ammonia triggers algae. He reported conducting experiments that proved dosing ammonia caused algae
He did, but he also stated other factors could be at play. Personally I think high ammonia levels awaken algal spores, I can't provide scientific proof of this, so its just my theory.
 

Wookii

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I'm fairly confident that sudden increases in ammonia can contribute to algae outbreaks, I have seen it myself in my own tanks on at least two occasions. Most recently when I added some root tabs into a very mature low tech tank which had no visible algae for over a year. The root tabs clearly released significantly amounts of ammonia into the water column resulting in overnight appearance of GDA and GSA.

I think the key thing is though is that ammonia in and of itself doesn't lead to algae, given most glass box systems like ours will be generating ammonia all the time, and many people dose ammoniacal based fertilisers without issue. The key point is a sudden and significant 'spike' in levels - a dramatic shift in the usual stability that the 'system' has become adapted to. These spikes in ammonia way above the norm is what seems to somehow allow algae to gain an advantage through the period of system instability. Once the system is stabilised again, and the spike in ammonia removed, the algae typically disappears again.

It is why high levels of ammonia is such an issue in newly started tank, because neither the microbial system nor the growing plant mass is stable enough to deal with it, and algae easily takes the advantage.
 

jaypeecee

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I think when talking about algae, instead of using language such as “caused” it is better to use words such as “influence”.
Hi @plantnoobdude

You make a very valid point. We, myself included, often tend to think in terms of one cause, one effect. But, it's often a case of multiple causes, single/multiple effects. We hear it all the time. A common one that usually gets my attention is 'What causes BBA?'. When everything is in balance, we may not have a problem, whatever that may be. But, when the balance is disrupted such as with @Wookii's ammonia example, problems may arise.

I will try to remember 'What factors influence/contribute to...?' from now on.

JPC
 
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I cannot say that Ammonia is the main algae boom factor. Ammonia can definitely cause troubles for an immature tank, but now I dose half of my Nitrogen on Ammonia without any issues with algae. I also have a tank with floaters that stands on the direct sunlight with no equipment and no water changes for months and with dosing of the garden fertilizers in ridiculous amounts, including Ammonia Sulfate. And look, here is that tank:
APC_0295 2.jpg
As you can see, there are no algae even on the glassware (there is some BGA on the bottom substrate, but nothing serious). Why? I don't know... I don't clean glass in my main tanks as well, and they have no algae. That's why I'm quite sceptic about the idea that Ammonia (or any other mineral element) causes algae on its own.
 

erwin123

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I cannot say that Ammonia is the main algae boom factor. Ammonia can definitely cause troubles for an immature tank, but now I dose half of my Nitrogen on Ammonia without any issues with algae. I also have a tank with floaters that stands on the direct sunlight with no equipment and no water changes for months and with dosing of the garden fertilizers in ridiculous amounts, including Ammonia Sulfate. And look, here is that tank:
View attachment 190753
As you can see, there are no algae even on the glassware (there is some BGA on the bottom substrate, but nothing serious). Why? I don't know... I don't clean glass in my main tanks as well, and they have no algae. That's why I'm quite sceptic about the idea that Ammonia (or any other mineral element) causes algae on its own.
isn't there algae on the glass? I presume thats why I cannot see through the sides clearly?
 
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sn't there algae on the glass? I presume thats why I cannot see through the sides clearly?
No, it's light reflection (e.g. from the bottom which is dark and from the can) - I'm not very good in taking photos. The glasses are transparent at least when I look through them using my eyes and not the phone camera :)
Here is another my experiment that came out of control. A small jar with water, soil, floaters and some moss. It is placed on my south-oriented window and is also exposed to full sun + solufeed fertilizers. Here is how it looks like today:
APC_0299.jpg
It has not a single patch of algae anywhere: yes, it is filled with the water, but Phyllanthus Fluitans decides that it wants to occupy all space and has even started to open the lid... Surprisingly an open glass in the same place filled with RO water has turned to be green in a couple of days. So algae can grow with very small amount of nutritients but it is strongly inhibited by higher plants if those are healthy. I have no real ideas about why does it happen. Maybe healthy plants accumulate some element aggressively, I guess in my case that might be Mn that has concentration around 0.03 ppb (yes, like 30 parts per trillion) according to ICP-MS analysis of my tanks water. Maybe plants can emit some chemicals to kill algae cells. But the results are quite surprising (well, at least for me).
 

_Maq_

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Most recently when I added some root tabs into a very mature low tech tank which had no visible algae for over a year. The root tabs clearly released significantly amounts of ammonia into the water column resulting in overnight appearance of GDA and GSA.
Good point. But was it the ammonia which made the algae appear? I mean, it is quite common observation that algae appear when you touch the substrate. Re-planting, deep vacuuming, and also - inserting objects into the substrate, par example, fertilizer pills...
I regularly fertilize with NH4NO3. When pH falls lower than I like, I quit ammonia and fertilize with nitrate only. And later, when pH is ok, I introduce ammonia again. In fishless tanks. I don't see any change in algae status. Such observations do not fit much with your suggestion.
Also, I've never read a scientific paper on algae which would mention any 'awakening of algal spores' by ammonia. There seems to be no distinction between ammonia and nitrate. It does have an effect among various competing algal species.
I think we are unlikely to arrive at any conclusive results. Still, some people mention ammonia as THE cause of algae. I rather think that ammonia level may influence it just like plenty of other variables.
 

Wookii

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Good point. But was it the ammonia which made the algae appear? I mean, it is quite common observation that algae appear when you touch the substrate. Re-planting, deep vacuuming, and also - inserting objects into the substrate, par example, fertilizer pills...
I regularly fertilize with NH4NO3. When pH falls lower than I like, I quit ammonia and fertilize with nitrate only. And later, when pH is ok, I introduce ammonia again. In fishless tanks. I don't see any change in algae status. Such observations do not fit much with your suggestion.
Also, I've never read a scientific paper on algae which would mention any 'awakening of algal spores' by ammonia. There seems to be no distinction between ammonia and nitrate. It does have an effect among various competing algal species.
I think we are unlikely to arrive at any conclusive results. Still, some people mention ammonia as THE cause of algae. I rather think that ammonia level may influence it just like plenty of other variables.

No, I can disturb substrates in my tanks at will with no negative consequences or algal blooms. The root tabs were an error on my part as the substrate really wasn't deep enough. I also suddenly had measurable ammonia in the water column, so the root tabs were definitely the contributing factor.

As I say, I don't think it is necessarily ammonia itself that is important in triggering an algal bloom, but rather a sudden and significant spike in ammonia. I understand that you dose ammonia as part of your fertilizer regime, and your system has matured based on that dosing regime, but I imagine you don't dose a massive amount of it, and certainly not in one go? Stability is what keeps tanks algae free, and sudden changes are what hinders that stability. Similar algae outbreaks can be created if you suddenly crank up the lights, miss too many water changes, or remove too much plant mass in one go as they all impact the stability of the system.

As you run your tanks without fish, it would be an easy thing to test if you are willing to do so. Just dose you tanks with 5ppm of ammonia every day for few days and see if there is any negative effect?
 
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