Jump to content

The biggest misconception in all of aquaria - ammonia


tonyjuliano
 Share

Ammonia Production  

43 members have voted

  1. 1. What is the biggest single source of ammonia in a planted aquarium stocked with fish and invertebrates? (Assuming reasonable attempts at required maintenance are made)

    • Uneaten / decaying food
      19
    • Decaying plant matter
      7
    • Feces and/or urine from tank inhabitants
      11
    • Something else
      6


Recommended Posts

On 6/19/2021 at 2:39 PM, Guppysnail said:

Most...I say most because I do not I use inert gravel....most people use active substrate?

I just planted my 20 gallon Betta Bowl with inert gravel and used root tabs around all the root feeders and easy green for the rest.

I wanted a black substrate and didn't want sand. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 11:28 AM, tonyjuliano said:

Not to hijack my own thread, but…

That’s a very cool looking vintage speaker cabinet.  Details?

It’s a turn table and AM/FM radio with a tube amp and RCA inputs for whatever you want to connect. It’s not functional, but we keep it around for it’s cool design. I have a small hoard of vintage stereo gear. 

  • Like 1
  • Love 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/18/2021 at 9:02 PM, tonyjuliano said:

We spend a lot of time trying to manage the nitrogen cycle and it’s very “fish-toxic” precursor - ammonia.

But how many really understand what is the primary cause of ammonia production?

Let’s find out.

Take the poll and explain your rationale, especially if you answered “something else”.

To make things interesting, I’ll personally throw a $20 Aquarium Co-Op gift card to the first person with the correct answer.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 1:50 PM, HenryC said:

my parrot constantly pooping in my aquarium? 🤷‍♂️

IMG_20201125_184607.jpg

Which breed is it? I used to have X2 Greys but had to put one down last year as it had cancer. Loved it to bits and took me many months to pick my self of the floor. It was super intelligent , always new what it wants and sked for it, we even had several logical conversations. Mega birds but hard work.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 2:41 PM, ARMYVET said:

I just planted my 20 gallon Betta Bowl with inert gravel and used root tabs around all the root feeders and easy green for the rest.

I wanted a black substrate and didn't want sand. 

Ok so the absolute only other thing that is involved in my aquariums is ...depending on which one...the method I use to break surface tension and oxygenate my water. I know that causes some ammonia but I did not think that much?

...yeah all mine are black 🙂 

Edited by Guppysnail
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 12:09 PM, BenA said:

Which breed is it? I used to have X2 Greys but had to put one down last year as it had cancer. Loved it to bits and took me many months to pick my self of the floor. It was super intelligent , always new what it wants and sked for it, we even had several logical conversations. Mega birds but hard work.

Sad to hear that, greys are incredible animals, so intelligent and personable. This is just a little peachface lovebird, little but with huge personality haha!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 3:16 PM, HenryC said:

At this point OP should just enlighten us lol, cause it seems nobody has hit the nail on the head with our answers.

@Cory Help us out lol! We need help with this boss.

Yeah agree the gas exchange was my last guess I’m outta guesses 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Administrators
On 6/19/2021 at 12:16 PM, HenryC said:

At this point OP should just enlighten us lol, cause it seems nobody has hit the nail on the head with our answers.

@Cory Help us out lol! We need help with this boss.

Short of a scientific paper enlightening us all. This is kind of a red herring topic. There are so many factors.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Any ammonia can be traced back to nitrogen. Even though the majority of the air we breathe is composed of nitrogen, it is not of the type that will dissolve in a usable form in water.

But nitrogen is a key component of proteins. Proteins are made from chains of amino acids. The 'amino' in amino acids is nitrogen. Many high quality fish foods are high in protein. So when we feed our fish we are putting nitrogen in our aquariums. It doesn't matter whether the fish eat it or not.

Eventually bacteria in the tank convert nitrogen through its various forms until it is consumed by plants and made into more plants. Or gets removed by water changes.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 4:28 PM, Cory said:

Short of a scientific paper enlightening us all. This is kind of a red herring topic. There are so many factors.

Of course there are many factors, but what is the biggest?  That’s the question.

And the answer is…

The fish themselves (something else).

Decaying, uneaten food does produce ammonia, but you would have to feed ridiculous amounts for it to be the primary producer.

 Dying plant matter, pretty much the same.

Fish / invertebrate “poop & pee”?  This is probably the smallest “producer”, the amount is minuscule.

Normal Fish respiration, however, produces the bulk of ammonia content in any “normal” aquarium situation.

Most think that warnings about “over-stocking” have their root in the increased feeding (more left unconsumed), or increased urine and fecal production.

Both of these are true, but pale in comparison to the volume that the normal process of osmoregulation generates.

BTW - This question was answered correctly almost immediately, but the vast majority did not cite it as the primary source.

Edited by tonyjuliano
  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 2:43 PM, Patrick_G said:

It’s a turn table and AM/FM radio with a tube amp and RCA inputs for whatever you want to connect. It’s not functional

Well, I would seriously consider making it “functional” again, I know I would.

I’ve got a very talented “tube guy” if you’re interested.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/19/2021 at 2:12 PM, Guppysnail said:

Fun riddle 🙂

Agreed.  I think you'd have to define "source" better and tank conditions better to make it a properly answerable question. 

 

My guess would have been the food you put in the tank, assuming I wasn't interpreting it as a "gotcha" kind of question.

 

Edited by CT_
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well in my betta tank uneaten food isn't a very big amonia source mostly because hugo spends all day making sure there isn't any extra food.😅

But in most cases I would say and voted for uneaten food. Its sometimes hard to determine "should I put more food in...". I also feel like in a well balanced planted tank decaying plant matter shouldn't be a regular occurance. In the first few weeks of the aquarium when some plants are melting back sure, this might be the biggest source of amonia. 

This is a very interesting thread. Thanks for sharing @tonyjuliano

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Regardless of what we consider the original “source” of ammonia, I think the interesting thing here is that fish don’t poop or pee out their nitrogenous waste like we do (urea), but rather it flows out across their gills just like CO2.

I started poking around for literature about this and found a great review article from 2010 summarizing all kinds of things about ammonia production in fish!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3059970/

Here’s a cool quote about where the excreted ammonia comes from:

Quote

Animals cannot store excess amino acids, unlike carbohydrates and lipids which can be stored as glycogen and triglycerides, respectively. Thus, dietary amino acids in excess of the amounts needed for growth and maintenance of protein turnover are preferentially degraded over carbohydrates and lipids in the liver (Campbell, 1991). ... Approximately 40–60% of the nitrogen intake from food is excreted within 24 h (Ip et al., 2004c; Lim et al., 2004b). In addition to diet, muscle proteins can act as a source of amino acids, which are catabolized for the production of ATP or carbohydrates, in fasting fishes (Houlihan et al., 1995). ... During exercise or hypoxia, ammonia can also be produced through the deamination of AMP in the skeletal muscle.

So yes, ammonia production through metabolism of proteins is the primary source of ammonia in most aquariums, but that’s directly related to how much food the fish has eaten recently.

Other fun facts I learned:

  • Some fish can convert ammonia to ammonium (turning it into a positive ion) if that helps it diffuse better. (Which form diffuses better depends on the water around them.)
  • Some fish can convert ammonia to urea like we can! 😮
  • At least some fish (maybe most fish or all fish?) have some active transporters that pump ammonia out of their gills, so even if the ammonia is high in the water, they can still get at least some ammonia out of their blood
  • Some fish can change how permeable their membranes are to ammonia
  • Some fish can actually change the pH around them to help ammonia diffuse out of their bodies
  • Some fish’s brains are resistant to ammonia somehow

Aaaand I really should go to bed instead of reading that whole paper. But it’s super interesting!!!

Of course I do have to do my bio teacher thing:

On 6/19/2021 at 9:53 AM, tonyjuliano said:

The lower the pH level, the more ammonia (or any substance) can be held in solution. The pH of water determines the solubility, or the amount of anything that can be dissolved in it.

The lower the pH level, the more of some substances can be held in solution. It depends on the substance. Also, the pH of water definitely affects the solubility, but it doesn’t determine it (determine implies it’s the only factor that matters). I don’t think you actually meant it’s the only factor that matters, but I don’t want anyone to walk away with a misconception.

On 6/19/2021 at 5:10 PM, tonyjuliano said:

Normal Fish respiration, however, produces the bulk of ammonia content in any “normal” aquarium situation.

A more accurate term would be normal fish metabolism. Respiration is specifically the creation of ATP or another energy-holding molecule. Parts of the proteins broken down in fish (and us) do end up contributing energy+materials to respiration, but the process that’s producing ammonia would not be considered respiration directly. 👍

Edited by Hobbit
I had to do the bio teacher thing!!
  • Like 3
  • Thanks 4
  • Love 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The post directly above clarifies (much better than I did) the details of the processes chiefly responsible for the majority of ammonia production in a normal aquarium environment, and I’m grateful for @Hobbit’s prowess as a teacher for this. 

The whole intention of this posting in the first place was to initiate debate and encourage people to think through in order to better educate us all, instead of just blindly accepting a lot of the same “dogma” that is repeated by many aquarium hobbyists.

The scientific paper that @Hobbit linked to is one of a few that I also stumbled across on this subject, and is what spurred me to start this discussion.  I hope that everyone who participated will make some time to read it in its entirety.

To sum things up, I think that the following misconceptions, which are professed by many - in many places, should be viewed with skepticism.

  • Dying and decaying plant matter may look unsightly, but the ammonia produced by this process is negligible and not a significant source of toxicity.
  • Reduced feeding - beyond what is normal and required - will not have a significant impact on controlling excess ammonia in the environment. Uneaten food, left to decay (in reasonable amounts) is not responsible for an abundance of ammonia.
  • Decreases in fecal and urine production initiated by a reduction in food source will also not have significant impact. The argument can be made that trying to control ammonia utilizing this “method” will this will weaken the fish’s ability to cope with toxin’s due to undermining their health due to lack of proper nutrition.

In my mind, this leaves just a few methods that will be effective in the long term management of excess ammonia levels.

  1. Water changes: While effective, can also be detrimental to some degree.  The act of replacing a portion of the environment will certainly “dilute” any toxins contained therein, but will also induce stress (especially the case with large water changes), and has the potential to reduce the amount of beneficial balance in the water column.
  2. Population reduction: Less fish, less ammonia production, simple as that. It has little do with them “pooping and peeing”, starving them in the hope that a decrease in uneaten food will make the difference is futile. Fish are the primary source of ammonia, and reducing their number will certainly reduce ammonia.
  3. Increased bio-filtration: The ‘nirvana” of the three. Colonization of organisms that consume ammonia is essential in a closed environment, the more you can increase their number, the greater excess ammonia can be consumed.  This, however, comes with a “down-side” The traditional ammonia consuming organisms also produce other toxins (nitrite, nitrate) that have to be reduced to safe levels.

These are really the only effective methods of control we have.  No chemical additive will fix this, no “magic in a bottle” will assist in management, starving them of nutrition does more harm than good.

We all realize this to some degree, but many do not have a thorough understanding of how the majority of ammonia is produced to begin with, which I hope this discussion has made clear.

 

Edited by tonyjuliano
  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/20/2021 at 6:19 AM, tonyjuliano said:

The whole intention of this posting in the first place was to initiate debate and encourage people to think through in order to better educate us all, instead of just blindly accepting a lot of the same “dogma” that is repeated by many aquarium hobbyists.

I'm a bit confused.  What's the current dogma? What's harmful about that dogma (if anything)?  What's correct, or currently though to be correct by experts?  And what should we be doing different?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/20/2021 at 3:22 PM, CT_ said:

What's the current dogma?

The results of this poll clearly demonstrate what Is.  Almost 70% of respondents had the opinion that over-feeding is the main cause of ammonia production (through the decay of uneaten food or the production of urine and/or fecal matter).

This matches the prevalent opinions I’ve seen professed over and over again by majority of hobbyists (and even supposed experts) l’ve seen.  This has been repeated and stated as fact for as long as I can recall.

But science not only doesn’t support this, it refutes it.

The fish themselves, singularly and collectively, are mainly responsible for the majority of ammonia production, generated by their normal existence alone.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/20/2021 at 1:34 PM, tonyjuliano said:

The results of this poll clearly demonstrate what Is.  Almost 70% of respondents had the opinion that over-feeding is the main cause of ammonia production (through the decay of uneaten food or the production of urine and/or fecal matter).

This matches the prevalent opinions I’ve seen professed over and over again by majority of hobbyists (and even supposed experts) l’ve seen.  This has been repeated and stated as fact for as long as I can recall.

But science not only doesn’t support this, it refutes it.

The fish themselves, singularly and collectively, are mainly responsible for the majority of ammonia production, generated by their normal existence alone.

 

Are we talking about ammonia specifically?  or nitrogen in general (ammonia/nitrite/nitrate)?

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...