Bedside Aquarium

Tim Harrison

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
5 Nov 2011
Messages
7,778
Location
UK
Adding ammonia is not a good idea, and totally unnecessary in a planted tank especially one that's been dry started.
It's probably responsible for triggering the brown algae, cyanobacteria etc, not to mention nitrite spike.
I'd do a 100% water change and just let nature take its course, it should cycle without in a week or so.
 

Lauris

Member
Joined
9 Sep 2013
Messages
508
Location
Dublin, Ireland
Same thoughts on adding amonia. I have had a struggle in past with few projects where at the start I couldn't manage the amonia and so the nitite spikes and ended up in a battle with different algae types (inc. the ones mentioned above) from the week one. This made the journey less pleasant indeed.

I would suggest to see if anyone local would be willing to share some matured media. It would help to stabilise the process and avoid battle with algae types
 
Joined
17 Aug 2018
Messages
1,098
Location
-
In addition to the above, if you are wanting to change the filter media, I would do this now so that you don't have any risk of a mini cycle further down the line.
 

Miss-Pepper

Member
Joined
6 Oct 2012
Messages
80
Adding ammonia is not a good idea, and totally unnecessary in a planted tank especially one that's been dry started.
It's probably responsible for triggering the brown algae, cyanobacteria etc, not to mention nitrite spike.
I'd do a 100% water change and just let nature take its course, it should cycle without in a week or so.
Oh no! Really?! This is always the way I've been taught to do it, just shows you can't assume you already know the best way to do something :rolleyes: thanks for the heads up. I'll do another water change today. Are there any signs I should look out for in terms of the cycle being completed?

In addition to the above, if you are wanting to change the filter media, I would do this now so that you don't have any risk of a mini cycle further down the line.
Thanks I've found the Dennerle corner filter has a little cage accessory 'filter modul' so you can add some small bio media. I'll get ordering it now.
 

Tim Harrison

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
5 Nov 2011
Messages
7,778
Location
UK
Are there any signs I should look out for in terms of the cycle being completed?
Well, I hate to admit it, but it's probably the only time I'd advocate the use of a test kit. Although hobby grade test kits are notoriously inaccurate nitrate, nitrite and ammonia test kits should give you a ball park indication when the tank has cycled, i.e. when all are as good as zero. If nitrate is still present in low ppm, usually all that is required is a water change, and then you can start to slowly add critters so the filter flora have time to react.

However, I don't usually start adding critters to a scape until it's settled in properly and I've dialled in the CO2. That way if I need to make adjustments I don't have to worry about livestock. By then my scapes are usually about 4-6 weeks mature, and experience tells me that the tank has long since cycled so I don't need to use test kits at all.
 

dw1305

Expert
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
10,486
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
OK, just stop adding the ammonia, this is quite important.

Ammonia addition doesn't serve any useful purpose in a planted tank, it probably delays the development of an appropriate microbial flora, and quite possibly will damage the assemblage of nitrifying organisms that have developed during the DSM.

There is plenty of scientific research on this, but not much of this has trickled down to forums. Have a look at <"Bartelme RP, McLellan SL, Newton RJ. (2017) Freshwater Recirculating Aquaculture System Operations Drive Biofilter Bacterial Community Shifts around a Stable Nitrifying Consortium of Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaea and Comammox Nitrospira. Frontiers in Microbiology."> also have a look at <"Bacteria/biological...."> and the links in the quote.
The Science bit
The original research was based on the growing requirements of bacteria isolated from sewage works (high pH, high ammonia loading), but you can only grow a tiny proportion of micro-organisms in culture, and the ones we can <"grow in culture aren't the ones found in aquarium filters">.

More recently scientists have looked at nitrification in biofilters using the <"isotopes of nitrogen"> and DNA sequencing of the organisms present, which has shown that their are a huge range of micro-organisms in aquarium filters and substrate and that the most important ones are Ammonia Oxidising Archaea and <"COMAMMOX Nitrospira bacteria that can convert ammonia (NH3) directly into nitrate (NO3)">.

It has also shown that low ammonia levels ("an oligotrophic life style") supports a much larger diversity of nitrifying organisms, and that <"diversity brings stability">.
cheers Darrel
 

Miss-Pepper

Member
Joined
6 Oct 2012
Messages
80
Hi all, OK, just stop adding the ammonia, this is quite important.

Ammonia addition doesn't serve any useful purpose in a planted tank, it probably delays the development of an appropriate microbial flora, and quite possibly will damage the assemblage of nitrifying organisms that have developed during the DSM.

There is plenty of scientific research on this, but not much of this has trickled down to forums. Have a look at <"Bartelme RP, McLellan SL, Newton RJ. (2017) Freshwater Recirculating Aquaculture System Operations Drive Biofilter Bacterial Community Shifts around a Stable Nitrifying Consortium of Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaea and Comammox Nitrospira. Frontiers in Microbiology."> also have a look at <"Bacteria/biological...."> and the links in the quote. cheers Darrel
Thank you so much Darrel, I always like to see the reasoning behind things but I think it'll take me a while to digest all this new information! I am planning on doing a large water change momentarily, as suggested, to remove all the nitrites that were between 0.25 and 0.5ppm. If this brings the ammonia down from 2ppm to 0 again, still no addition of ammonia at all? I'm still stuck on the idea that if the bacteria have nothing to feed upon, they will die back. When I flooded the tank ammonia and nitrite were 0 so I assumed I needed to do *something* to start it all off. If it tests ok when set up, and there's no change in a week to me nothing has happened and I'll never know when it's ok to add inhabitants? There was me excited that some ammonia had been converted into nitrites so quickly :(
 

dw1305

Expert
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
10,486
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
while to digest all this new information!
It honestly isn't new,. You can look at <"Dr Tim Hovanec's"> comments in <"Bacteria revealed"> and the <"Nitrogen Cycle Discussion"> thread. The basic point is that the original work on nitrification (including Dr Hovanec's), used the information that was available at the time, but we now know that this isn't what happens in aquarium filtration.

Dr Hovanec used Nitrobacter spp., <"Ammonia Oxidising Bacteria" (AOB)> which had been isolated from sewage sludge and were found to only grow in highly alkaline situations with a high ammonia loading (so basically in raw sewage). Because of the requirements of these bacteria, high ammonia levels had to be maintained until you added the fish (which would then supply the ammonia) or the AOB went dormant and your cycle stalled.

Before that we had used the "sacrificial fish" method, so ammonia addition was an advance. Because nitrite (NO2-) is still toxic to fish, subsequent to the AOB you needed the development of another class of bacteria that converted NO2- to nitrate (NO3-), and then that NO3 could only be removed via water changes (the schematic below from <"Beginner FAQ: The Nitrogen Cycle, and ``New Tank Syndrome''>)


In both cases ("sacrificial fish" and "ammonia addition") plants were mainly looked on as mainly decorative, and their contribution to the nitrogen cycle was assumed to be minimal. The subsequent forty years of research have shown that this is all wrong.
  • Plant/microbe biofiltration is much more efficient than microbe only nitrification (research from constructed wetlands and phytoremediation) and that plants preferentially use NH3/NH4+ as their nitrogen source.
  • Oxygen is the prime metric in nitrification (measurable via the five day BOD test),
  • Nitrobacter doesn't occur in aquarium filters, but
  • A huge range of other micro-organisms do including Ammonia Oxidising Archaea (AOA),
  • Many of the new organisms found by DNA/RNA library methods don't require high pH levels.
  • Nitrospira, the bacteria that oxidises NO2- to NO3-, was found to have the <"Comammox gene"> that allows it to convert ammonia directly to nitrate.
There are a number of scientific papers specifically on the nitrifying organisms in aquarium filters, which suggest that their assemblage shows a fluid response to varying ammonia loadings, with a stable core of Archaea and an ever changing cast of nitrifying bacteria. This is described in <"Freshwater Recirculating Aquaculture System Operations Drive Biofilter Bacterial Community Shifts around a Stable Nitrifying Consortium of Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaea and Comammox Nitrospira"> and Bagchi et al (2014) <"Temporal and Spatial Stability of Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaea and Bacteria in Aquarium Biofilters">. Also have a look at <"Need some opinions on this (Cycling, diana walstad quote)">, it gives some more background.
I am planning on doing a large water change momentarily, as suggested, to remove all the nitrites that were between 0.25 and 0.5ppm. If this brings the ammonia down from 2ppm to 0 again, still no addition of ammonia at all?
You need to remove the ammonia as rapidly as possible, and then not add any more.

You may get a flush of algal growth following the ammonia addition, but because of the DSM period the damage done (to microbial flora) by the ammonia addition is likely to be relatively short-lived.

cheers Darrel
 

Miss-Pepper

Member
Joined
6 Oct 2012
Messages
80
It honestly isn't new
Sorry Darrel, that was meant to read new to me. I've been a fish keeper for 7 years and honestly this is the first time someone has said to me don't use ammonia to cycle an aquarium. I'm not disputing what you are saying. You clearly have a much more scientific background than myself and are very knowledgeable on the subject, so I respect and appreciate the advice you are giving me. I will be working through all the links you've provided, thank you.

You need to remove the ammonia as rapidly as possible, and then not add any more.
I've taken out as much water as possible and refreshed the water. Nitrite is reading 0ppm and ammonia could be 0 or 0.25, I actually find it really difficult to read the API test kit but it's certainly no higher than that.

I'm a little confused on how to proceed and what I'm waiting for now, or how long but I suppose those answers will be revealed within the threads so I'll get to it. Thanks again.
 
Last edited:

dw1305

Expert
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
10,486
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
honestly this is the first time someone has said to me don't use ammonia to cycle an aquarium
And that is the real issue for me, many forums and LFS are advocating methods that definitely aren't best practice and in a lot of cases actively get in the way of people being successful aquarists. I would hope that you would get better advice in Germany, Sweden or the Netherlands.

There is no money to be made by telling people that "oxygen, plants and time" are the most important factors in being a successful fish keeper. If you then tell them that
  • they can use garden soil capped with sand as substrate,
  • that there is no point in trying to change your water chemistry with pH buffers,
  • there are no special phosphors, (unique to aquarium tubes), that promote plant growth,
  • you can collect rocks, wood and dead leaves safely from the wild,
  • that live food, vegetables and dead leaves are cheap and good ways to feed your fish and shrimps
  • that a bespoke, very expensive filter media is, at best, irrelevantly slightly more efficient than alfagrog etc.,
  • that a canister filter is fundamentally a pump in a bucket.
  • that snails are a good thing in the aquarium
  • that a lot of aquarium test kits aren't accurate and shouldn't be used as a basis for important decisions.
  • Plants need all fourteen of the essential elements for plant growth, just in vastly differing amounts.
  • That every ion is the same as every other ion in solution,
  • that plants can only take up nutrients as ions and
  • it makes no difference to the plant if the source of a potassium ion (K+) was ADA's finest or the cheapest dry potassium salt.
Then a large amount of the products sold by the industry becomes superfluous.
You clearly have a much more scientific background than myself
Some of this is my "day job", but there is a vast resource of peer validated, open source, scientific research available to every-one.

The headline news is:
  • Oxygen is much more important than ammonia in "cycling".
  • Nitrification is carried out by a large range of organisms that we've only discovered recently,
  • and that the bacteria we thought were essential for cycling don't actually occur in aquarium filters
  • If you have plenty of plants (and some with the aerial advantage) you can use them both to improve water quality and as an indication of when to add fertilisers.
  • "Plant/microbe biofiltration" is much more efficient than "microbe only" biofiltration.
  • Plant roots are leaky structures, leaking oxygen, nutrients and carbon into the "rhizosphere", the zone around the root, altering the microbial assemblage to the plants advantage.
Diana Walstad had to publish her book <"The Ecology of Planted Aquarium"> privately despite the fact that it was meticulously researched and full of information that the subsequent two decades has very largely validated. There were some things that she <"subsequently revised in the light of her experience">, because she is a scientist she was happy to do this.

Dr Tim Hovanec sells a product designed to help cycle aquariums, but again was happy to revise his products and advice in light of scientific advances, but then you go onto to a forum and you read the same old, totally discredited, advice repeated time after time, and it really p*sses me off, because it is one of the things that is standing in the way of people having healthy vibrant aquariums that they can enjoy, rather than staggering from disaster to disaster.

cheers Darrel
 

dw1305

Expert
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
10,486
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
Can we make a sticky out of this last post and make everyone who wants to join the forum read this first?
Thanks Ed, but I definitely need write a less angry, more fluffy, properly referenced one.

Apologies to @Miss-Pepper as well, it wasn't meant to come over quite like that. It also looks like I failed to read @Tim Harrison's or @Lauris's posts, before I posted mine.

Reading through (both) my posts this morning I think I might have been channeling my inner "Clive".

cheers Darrel
 

Miss-Pepper

Member
Joined
6 Oct 2012
Messages
80
Hi all,Thanks Ed, but I definitely need write a less angry, more fluffy, properly referenced one.

Apologies to @Miss-Pepper as well, it wasn't meant to come over quite like that. It also looks like I failed to read @Tim Harrison's or @Lauris's posts, before I posted mine.

Reading through (both) my posts this morning I think I might have been channeling my inner "Clive".

cheers Darrel
No need to appologise to me Darrel, sometimes we all need a good shouting at ;) Just kidding, I read your replies as frustration over the perpetuation of false information rather than anger directed towards me. I've gone over a lot of the material you provided and I think the penny is finally starting to drop! You've made a lot of good points in this thread on both 'cycling' and other common misconceptions. Many of which, I already knew about so it's funny I'd taken this aspect of fish keeping as gospel.

So far I think I understand, the rhizosphere is a hugely important part of the ecosystem where plant and bacteria work together symbiotically. Once plants are established and growing, it is assumed bacteria is now present and will be able to process low levels of ammonia. So you can add inhabitants carefully and slowly once plants look healthy and build it up over time? During this time, filter bacteria is also establishing itself with the 'right' kind of bacteria instead of kind of bacteria that grow and survive in high levels of ammonia such as found during an old fashioned liquid ammonia cycle (or raw sewage). Is this about right? Sorry for my lack of scientific wording and basic level of comprehension!

On a tangent, I've actually been doing a lot of research for my garden including the no-dig method for growing fruit and vegetables. This method is also based upon the symbiotic relationship terrestrial plant roots have with the soil flora, and how we must preserve the bacteria and fungi living in it in order to have bountiful, healthy plants.

I hope I haven't damaged my bacteria too much, and algae will soon subside with maintenance. While watching the tank this morning I noticed a small, white flatworm. So perhaps there's life yet!

Thanks again Darrel!
 

tam

Member
Joined
5 May 2011
Messages
1,022
Do you have another tank? You mentioned mulm? If so, I'd give it a few weeks to settle in and the plants begin growing underwater, then exchange some media with the other tank and start lightly stocking it.
 

Miss-Pepper

Member
Joined
6 Oct 2012
Messages
80
Do you have another tank? You mentioned mulm? If so, I'd give it a few weeks to settle in and the plants begin growing underwater, then exchange some media with the other tank and start lightly stocking it.
Yes I have two other, non planted aquariums. I did previously squeeze some mulm into the tank from a piece of filter floss. I might be able to rob some bio media from the fx5 once I get the Dennerle module, if it'll fit in it. But god I hate that thing :oops: gives me back ache just thinking about wrestling with it.
 

tam

Member
Joined
5 May 2011
Messages
1,022
Even floss/sponges will contain bacteria so you can swap out a sponge if that's easier. Didn't think to suggest it earlier, but for next time, the other option with a small filter is to run it in your existing tank as an extra - then move it to the new tank when you are ready to go.
 

dw1305

Expert
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
10,486
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
So far I think I understand, the rhizosphere is a hugely important part of the ecosystem where plant and bacteria work together symbiotically. Once plants are established and growing, it is assumed bacteria is now present and will be able to process low levels of ammonia.
Yes pretty much. The bacteria are likely to be mainly Archaea, but until we had ways of extracting microbial DNA from the environment we didn't know that <"Archaea and Bacteria were any different">.

Domains_of_life.jpg
(from <"http://www.fossilmuseum.net/">)

As well as the synergistic effect you shouldn't underestimate the direct contribution of the plants to nitrogen uptake, in many cases it will be much larger than the microbial contribution. It is difficult to get exact figures (because it is always "plant/microbe" system), but floating plants (often <"Water Hyacinth Eichornia crassipes">) are used a lot in tropical situations.

I've just been looking at a really useful open source paper, <"Myriophyllum aquaticum Constructed Wetland Effectively Removes Nitrogen in Swine Wastewater">, which quantifies a lot of these factors, this is from the summary...
... monospecies stands of Myriophyllum aquaticum to treat swine wastewater..... and a high (98.3%) average ammonia removal efficiency under a N loading rate of 9 kg ha-1 d-1 was observed. To determine whether this high efficiency was associated with the performance of active microbes, the abundance, structure, and interactions of microbial community were compared in the unvegetated and vegetated samples. Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reactions showed the abundances of nitrifying genes (archaeal and bacterial amoA) and denitrifying genes (nirS, nirK, and nosZ) were increased significantly by M. aquaticum in the sediments, and the strongest effects were observed for the archaeal amoA (218-fold) and nirS genes (4620-fold). High-throughput sequencing of microbial 16S rRNA gene amplicons showed that M. aquaticum greatly changed the microbial community, and ammonium oxidizers (Nitrosospira and Nitrososphaera), nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (Nitrospira).....were enriched significantly in the sediments
So you can add inhabitants carefully and slowly once plants look healthy and build it up over time? During this time, filter bacteria is also establishing itself with the 'right' kind of bacteria instead of kind of bacteria that grow and survive in high levels of ammonia such as found during an old fashioned liquid ammonia cycle (or raw sewage). Is this about right? Sorry for my lack of scientific wording and basic level of comprehension!
Yes that's it.

cheers Darrel
 
Last edited:

dw1305

Expert
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
10,486
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
On a tangent, I've actually been doing a lot of research for my garden including the no-dig method for growing fruit and vegetables. This method is also based upon the symbiotic relationship terrestrial plant roots have with the soil flora, and how we must preserve the bacteria and fungi living in it in order to have bountiful, healthy plants.
I like it as well, particularly for heavier clay based soils. I think it is generally a good idea to try to avoid disturbing soil (and substrate) if you can. You just add organic matter to the soil surface and over time it is incorporated into the soil profile.

I've talked a lot about oxygen in terms of the beneficial effects of keeping the filter media fully oxygenated in the aquarium, but it is also one of the beneficial effects of "no dig" gardening. The soil isn't compacted and you don't destroy the earthworm tunnels and crumb structure of the soil. The ideal growing medium has <"high air-filled porosity, but also high water holding capacity">.

You can create a "perfect" potting mix easily enough, but with the soil you have to do the best with what you have.

With "no dig" over time water percolates into the soil more easily, so you don't get problems with water-logging and hypoxia. Additionally the organic matter you've been adding also helps retain that water and further improve the crumb structure and CEC of the soil.

cheers Darrel
 

Miss-Pepper

Member
Joined
6 Oct 2012
Messages
80
Still battling with my algae issues. I've been keeping up with frequent large water changes, manual removal and have swapped the filter wool for filter floss and mature ceramic bio-rings from another tank. Added some shrimp to help battle what I can't get and because I like them :). Lights are on 6 hours a day, at full % of 16W, should I try reducing hours or brightness? I don't want to resort to anything chemical as it just masks a problem instead of fixes it but I pulled out a few leaves today that looked like they were about to be covered in black beard algae and I'm getting a bit worried things aren't improving. Thanks
 

Similar threads

Top