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Algae Ecosystem Journal


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As if I don't have enough projects going currently, I've decided to add a little 75 gal to the rack to explore aquatic algal ecosystems.  I'm fascinated how many aquatic systems are largely algae based, in terms of the photosynthetic organisms.  I'd like to play with how that will work in an aquarium setting. 

I have a terrible 75 gallon aquarium that I got on super sale.  The silicone is a mess all over the thing.  The glass barely lines up.  And the company has a reputation for tanks of this size blowing out.  I'll be leak testing it outside on a patio surface for a couple weeks before draining it and moving it into the rack (even though the rack has a floor drain below it).  I've also sealed the gaps in the silicone and the ones around the plastic rim.  If it holds, the next step is to drill and overflow into it.  I don't think the sides are tempered.  Well, I certainly hope not.

If all of that miraculously comes together, my next step is going to be how to cycle an aquarium while building up algae.  I've got "fishless cycle" ammonia and I'll probably do drops of that to get things moving.  Normally I use snails and a few fish, but I am afraid the snails might hit the algae too hard before I can get it going.

Fortunately, I have an algal mat that I can seed the tank with.  I've been growing it for over a decade as a means of cultivating an associated plant.  Look how great it looks:

1940769643_Algaemat.JPG.be9d82e206393b08b593c9cce23dfbec.JPG

Imagine an entire 75 gallon with that floating on the top?!  It'll be beautiful!

I've been inspired to do this based on a few videos I'd seen of pupfish out west.  Like this one:

And this one:

To me both of these are beautiful examples of algal dominated systems.  I'd like to recreate them in my tank. 

***Please note that I understand fully that those fish are endangered (ESA listed) and cannot be owned legally.  I will not be attempting to replicate this sort of system with those species.*** 

I may try to do so with related "pupfish" like Florida flag or something.  I just think those videos are show particularly beautiful and inspiring scenes.

So, this will be a journal of my efforts to do what most people try to avoid, grow a tank full of mucky, matted algae and keep healthy fish in it.  It'll be a slow process (like all my projects), but hopefully something interesting will come of it. 

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Oh, my! From you, @OnlyGenusCaps, the person I met not long ago, who was engaged in a fierce battle against algae and making fun of me because I love growing it, this is reassuring! Being an algae lover, I will be following this journal for sure! 🙂

Welcome to the dark side! (the other dark side, that is).🤪

Edited by eatyourpeas
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On 7/25/2021 at 1:33 PM, eatyourpeas said:

the person I met not long ago, who was engaged in a fierce battle against algae

I should have guessed you and what appears to be your eidetic memory would bring that up!  😜  If it helps, I still don't grow planted tanks because I hate fighting the algae to grow the plants, and I am still battling the BBA that somehow followed my Endler's from the display tank to the rack despite all the plants and decor getting sprayed down with 3% H2O2.  So, that part of me lives on. 

On 7/25/2021 at 1:33 PM, eatyourpeas said:

the other dark side, that is

There seem to be a number of them... 😉

On 7/25/2021 at 1:58 PM, Streetwise said:

My early recommendation is to not let the algae connect with anything like Java moss, or it will turn into an experiment about green Velcro!

Noted!  I don't intend to include plants though.  Just algae.  Nice, green algae.  Hopefully floating mats like I have, and perhaps some flowing and billowing hair-algae as well. 

It should be educational no matter how it turns out.  Which I think is the gracious way of saying that it could be a total failure.  But a fun one.

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On 7/26/2021 at 8:11 AM, eatyourpeas said:

Out of curiosity and given my experience with marine algae, is there are concern regarding the fragrance exuded by the fresh water specimen in such a large surface?

I agree algae can have strong aromas.  Not all bad.  For example when I walk into the reefing room at a LPS around here, their sumps are open, and the room has a very strong marine algae smell.  But for me what whisks me back to my childhood, exploring rock pools at low tide.  Sometimes I go there just to go into that room for the free smells of nostalgia. 

Of course none of that answers your question.  The algal mat pictured above, which is the one I intend to introduce as an inoculation, doesn't have a noticeable smell when I open the lid to its covered 10 gallon aquarium.  Two prior mats I cultivated to grow this other plant did have a smell I was not fond of.  That's why they were replaced.  So, I am hoping it won't be an issue.  If it is, well, I can try a different algal system, perhaps one more submerged.  As long as I don't let the algae decay, I think I have a fighting chance.

In related news, I swung by a local garden center today at lunch.  While not finding what I went in for, I came across their "water feature" section.  They had a pond set up with rocks that had a nice coating of algae.  Take a look:

756343242_localalgaepond.jpg.8cc61196cb0dd55811cf347e4c674a55.jpg

Can you imagine how cool that would look from the side rather than from the top!  I'm getting excited about this!  I might ask if they'll let me harvest some of the algae if I can get this going before the freeze kicks in around here.  I think there is hope for this project.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, the tank is officially in place, hooked up to the air supply, and...  Well, filled.  I need to cycle it though.  I'm planning on squirting in a bunch of Dr. Tim's ammonia and his cycle starter bacteria before I go out of town for 10 days,but then the real problem begins...  I need a biological source of ammonia.  My typical go to species are algae eaters (snails, and Endler's males).  But I want to grow algae here!  So, I am trying to figure out what critter(s) I can use to eat and produce waste that:

1. Won't eat my algae too much

2. Won't reproduce out of control/are easy to extract when I get my fish of choice in there

I'm all ears here.  Any suggestions?

(I'll try to get an unimpressive photo of the tank tomorrow.)

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On 8/18/2021 at 9:44 PM, eatyourpeas said:

Taddywallypogs?

Winter is a-comm'n 'round these parts.  My guess is any tadpoles that were around this summer have developed legs and are already hopping for a good spot to hibernate.  Well, that may be a bit extreme, but I suspect they are all froglets by now.  Plus, we've got a pretty solid drought on currently.  Most of the ponds near me (not the lakes mind you) are completely dried up.  Okay a few of the lakes are too. 

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So, for the promised photo+.

Here is the tank filled.  I have no background and it's in a room with bare studs.  It's not meant to be a display tank, plus I'm hoping the algae will eventually obscure the back wall a bit.  And i still need to cut a top.  Not ready yet for sure.

989458196_AlgaeEcosystemfilled.JPG.1cd1c0a24eb1a7e8f7a7bb012c4f772d.JPG

I also thought I'd show off my new central airline system I recently installed.  Here is the pump, which Aquarium Co-Op shoppers will likely recognize.

1424111898_CentralAirpump.JPG.824cdda3d93e7ab5c6e10bd79c3e260b.JPG

I've not had it long, but so far this this is even better than advertised!  I went a little bonkers with the foam underneath it to dampen sound, but I probably didn't need to as it's quieter than the pumps it replaced. 

I installed two probably non-standard features.  The first is a valve to vent excess supply to prevent too much back-pressure building up.  I don't know how much that can wear on these sorts of pumps, and given the price, I thought better safe than sorry.

2027713385_Centralairmuffler.JPG.44def7c9f22aa33dd53666af1714c14f.JPG

Should I have used a gate valve rather than a ball valve.  Probably.  But, I didn't think I had one.  I should have known better given the stash of PVC fittings I have amassed over the past couple years.  Oh well.  It works well enough and doesn't need to be too precise.  Plus I installed this:

1492421376_Centralairgauge.JPG.64363f90154d49e1a35ba6e200186d92.JPG

I wanted a way to keep an eye on the pressure in the system, both to minimize wear, and to understand how much of capacity I am using as I expand.  At first, I wasn't sure that this thing was going to be all that useful, but with it, I can adjust the muffled vent and know what pressure I am running.  It's been great already, and I'd recommend it on a build like this for sure.

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On 8/18/2021 at 10:17 PM, OnlyGenusCaps said:

Well, the tank is officially in place, hooked up to the air supply, and...  Well, filled.  I need to cycle it though.  I'm planning on squirting in a bunch of Dr. Tim's ammonia and his cycle starter bacteria before I go out of town for 10 days,but then the real problem begins...  I need a biological source of ammonia.  My typical go to species are algae eaters (snails, and Endler's males).  But I want to grow algae here!  So, I am trying to figure out what critter(s) I can use to eat and produce waste that:

1. Won't eat my algae too much

2. Won't reproduce out of control/are easy to extract when I get my fish of choice in there

I'm all ears here.  Any suggestions?

(I'll try to get an unimpressive photo of the tank tomorrow.)

I use zebra danio. They are very tough so tolerate bumps in the road like nothing happened.  They viscously hunt down their eggs and fry so no population issues plus they are a blast to watch. 😁

Edited by Guppysnail
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All of the micro-predators I know LOVE to supplement their diet with algae so I am clueless on this one! Can't wait the algae smell is nostalgic for sure for those of us who woke up every morning as a child with a dip net and bibs. I was lucky enough to have a retention pond in my backyard as well as a flooded woodland! 

 

Tank setup looks awesome even if it isn't very flashy, I am a sucker for some good plumbing 🙂

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On 8/19/2021 at 11:55 AM, Guppysnail said:

I use zebra danio.

Of course!  Brilliant!  That is what I will do.  Then, I'll have to figure out what to do with them after, but that's future me's problem. (Future me is not a big fan of past me because of this sort of behavior.)

On 8/19/2021 at 12:23 PM, Biotope Biologist said:

Can't wait the algae smell is nostalgic for sure

See.. The thing is...  I'm not a huge fan of FW algae smell.  I'm hoping to keep that in check.  The floating mat I cultivate, oddly, doesn't seem to have much smell to it at all.  Perhaps that's why I have continued to cultivate it?  I do understand what you are talking about though.  I grew up near the coast, and the smell of rotting kelp takes me back to childhood bliss!

On 8/19/2021 at 12:23 PM, Biotope Biologist said:

Tank setup looks awesome even if it isn't very flashy

Thanks, though you are too kind!  I'm thinking I'll add some rocks to it soon as well.  I want to give ample places for eggs to fall and get hidden from adult fish who might be hungry. 

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You have inspired me to maybe setup an algae tank. I have a large ceramic bowl outside, been there for years, which gets about 8 hours of intense full sunlight almost every day. I have often thought when looking at it that it is as beautiful as any planted aquarium. The sides are coated with a thick matt of algae about 20 mm thick and red on the underside, if you scrape some off. Usually the water is crystal clear, like a rock pool, but occassionally a clump of loose algae will float on the surface, but that is only 10% of the time, 90% of the time the surface is completely clear. When algae does float to the surface it depends on the water temperature - it will rise and fall during the day, maybe as it creates 02 bubbles? The reason I noticed it was when one day I was passing it and noticed little explosions on the water surface like sparkling. I have seen this before by plants in full sunlight where the miniature 02 bubbles explode when they hit the water surface which must be very clean for this to occur. It represents intense photosynthesis.

I am thinking the best way to transfer this algae to a tank would be to put several rocks at the bottom of this pot for a few months and let the algae attach to their surface. Just a thought - I am thinking that in your case you need not restrict yourself to floating algae. Creating an algae pot outside is not difficult but it will probably be dependent on the seasons you have. My algae grows outside all year round as I am in a relatively hot and arid location.

PS. The pot is clay and its rough surface is what allows algae to attach itself to it, and the algae is cleaning the water (hence why it is so clean) just as an aquarium plant does. Animals drink out of this pot. Have never fertilised it, it is just there. Simply keep it filled with water. I believe the purpose of the matt is that the living algae (on top) is feeding off the dead algae under it. Plants are basically cannibals - they eat themselves! I have learnt a lot about how to grow aquarium plants studying this pot.

Edited by Water Box Dreams
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On 8/19/2021 at 3:17 PM, Water Box Dreams said:

Usually the water is crystal clear, like a rock pool

That sounds awesome!  I'm sure I could grow algae in a pond outside; there's enough in the lakes around her from everyone who lives on them fertilizing their lawns right up to the edge of the water.

I've kind of focused on the algae I have for practical reasons(and that smell issue!).  It grows in my water and under artificial lights I have.  In your case, I'd worry about the species in the bowl needing more intense light to remain dominant.  But, you are right, I should explore the options in my environment more.  Thanks!

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Yes good point about lighting. I am reading a book at the moment written by a Scientist stating that algae species are shade loving. Not the algae where I live - in brightly lit water catchments without plants they are the only species that thrives. But I suppose there are many species of fresh water algae. I am OK for light I expect as almost all of my tanks use sunlight. Its a long story- its about my electricity bill!

One great advantage of using sunlight for illumination is that the sun moves through the sky which means that a tank in a window will generally only get about 2 hours of direct sunlight a day, depending on the location. My sunniest tanks get 3 hours. I find that a great advantage as more than 2 hours can cause heating and algae problems.

WITH REGARD TO CYCLING, personally I wouldn't as I would expect that a healthy tank of algae would naturally cycle itself after a few weeks. But you could try adding small amounts of fish food. I have done this sometimes with only plant tanks, thinking I may add fish to a tank later. Its like feeding your fish a few weeks before they are there - after all a fish is simply processing the food, something bacteria can do as well. But I am not that knowledgeable about fish keeping or cycling (I expect fish keepers here know vastly more than I do on this subject). I know that some in the Walstad plant community consider cycling unnecessary as they believe the plants do it from day one.

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On 8/19/2021 at 4:57 PM, Water Box Dreams said:

But I suppose there are many species of fresh water algae.

Absolutely!  The stuff we call algae is a wildly diverse group not entirely related organisms.  The diversity out there is absolutely amazing!  Well, when it's not showing up where you don't want it to be that is.  😃

On 8/19/2021 at 8:12 PM, Various Vivaria said:

May I inquire what plants you are growing that requires an algae mat?

Of course!  I am growing Utricularia humboldtii.  It doesn't technically require an algae mat.  In habitat they can be found in wet meadows, or most often in bromeliad tanks.  People cultivate them in sphagnum moss, but I've had the best luck with them when they are growing in shallow water supported by a mat of algae.  Perhaps because the algae feeds critters that the Utric then consumes?  Not sure why entirely.

It's a super cool plant though!  Sure, it has nice flowers.  But it also has two types of "leaves", divided submerged ones and entire aerial ones.  It has different bladder trap sizes, including some of the largest in the genus.  And my favorite part is that its seeds more hatch than germinate because the seed coat is clear and you can see the new, urchin-like plant inside.  They almost crawl their way out of the flimsy seed coat.  Just an interesting critter in my book! 

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On 8/19/2021 at 9:59 PM, OnlyGenusCaps said:

Of course!  I am growing Utricularia humboldtii.  It doesn't technically require an algae mat.  In habitat they can be found in wet meadows, or most often in bromeliad tanks.  People cultivate them in sphagnum moss, but I've had the best luck with them when they are growing in shallow water supported by a mat of algae.  Perhaps because the algae feeds critters that the Utric then consumes?  Not sure why entirely.

It's a super cool plant though!  Sure, it has nice flowers.  But it also has two types of "leaves", divided submerged ones and entire aerial ones.  It has different bladder trap sizes, including some of the largest in the genus.  And my favorite part is that its seeds more hatch than germinate because the seed coat is clear and you can see the new, urchin-like plant inside.  They almost crawl their way out of the flimsy seed coat.  Just an interesting critter in my book! 

That sounds really cool, I may have to try it out.

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On 7/25/2021 at 11:19 AM, OnlyGenusCaps said:

As if I don't have enough projects going currently, I've decided to add a little 75 gal to the rack to explore aquatic algal ecosystems.  I'm fascinated how many aquatic systems are largely algae based, in terms of the photosynthetic organisms.  I'd like to play with how that will work in an aquarium setting. 

I have a terrible 75 gallon aquarium that I got on super sale.  The silicone is a mess all over the thing.  The glass barely lines up.  And the company has a reputation for tanks of this size blowing out.  I'll be leak testing it outside on a patio surface for a couple weeks before draining it and moving it into the rack (even though the rack has a floor drain below it).  I've also sealed the gaps in the silicone and the ones around the plastic rim.  If it holds, the next step is to drill and overflow into it.  I don't think the sides are tempered.  Well, I certainly hope not.

If all of that miraculously comes together, my next step is going to be how to cycle an aquarium while building up algae.  I've got "fishless cycle" ammonia and I'll probably do drops of that to get things moving.  Normally I use snails and a few fish, but I am afraid the snails might hit the algae too hard before I can get it going.

Fortunately, I have an algal mat that I can seed the tank with.  I've been growing it for over a decade as a means of cultivating an associated plant.  Look how great it looks:

1940769643_Algaemat.JPG.be9d82e206393b08b593c9cce23dfbec.JPG

Imagine an entire 75 gallon with that floating on the top?!  It'll be beautiful!

I've been inspired to do this based on a few videos I'd seen of pupfish out west.  Like this one:

And this one:

To me both of these are beautiful examples of algal dominated systems.  I'd like to recreate them in my tank. 

***Please note that I understand fully that those fish are endangered (ESA listed) and cannot be owned legally.  I will not be attempting to replicate this sort of system with those species.*** 

I may try to do so with related "pupfish" like Florida flag or something.  I just think those videos are show particularly beautiful and inspiring scenes.

So, this will be a journal of my efforts to do what most people try to avoid, grow a tank full of mucky, matted algae and keep healthy fish in it.  It'll be a slow process (like all my projects), but hopefully something interesting will come of it. 

Man love those videos what a cool perspective 

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On 7/26/2021 at 12:00 PM, OnlyGenusCaps said:

I agree algae can have strong aromas.  Not all bad.  For example when I walk into the reefing room at a LPS around here, their sumps are open, and the room has a very strong marine algae smell.  But for me what whisks me back to my childhood, exploring rock pools at low tide.  Sometimes I go there just to go into that room for the free smells of nostalgia. 

Of course none of that answers your question.  The algal mat pictured above, which is the one I intend to introduce as an inoculation, doesn't have a noticeable smell when I open the lid to its covered 10 gallon aquarium.  Two prior mats I cultivated to grow this other plant did have a smell I was not fond of.  That's why they were replaced.  So, I am hoping it won't be an issue.  If it is, well, I can try a different algal system, perhaps one more submerged.  As long as I don't let the algae decay, I think I have a fighting chance.

In related news, I swung by a local garden center today at lunch.  While not finding what I went in for, I came across their "water feature" section.  They had a pond set up with rocks that had a nice coating of algae.  Take a look:

756343242_localalgaepond.jpg.8cc61196cb0dd55811cf347e4c674a55.jpg

Can you imagine how cool that would look from the side rather than from the top!  I'm getting excited about this!  I might ask if they'll let me harvest some of the algae if I can get this going before the freeze kicks in around here.  I think there is hope for this project.

I’ve never see anyone set out to do this but how exciting. Outside a display tank this could be fun.

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On 8/23/2021 at 5:04 PM, Jimmy said:

Man love those videos what a cool perspective

Of course, I can't take credit for either of them.  But I did find them very inspiring!

On 8/23/2021 at 5:10 PM, Jimmy said:

I’ve never see anyone set out to do this but how exciting. Outside a display tank this could be fun.

Me either.  So, it seems there is a very good chance it will fail.  Spectacularly!  But it'll be a fun learning experience.  If it goes well, say I get rocks coated in a billowing short cropped lawn of green hair algae, then it could be a display.  I'm guessing first run will be a stinky box of water though.  🤣

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  • 4 weeks later...

Well, I went out to try to get some local macro-algae for the algae ecosystem.  No luck first time out!  I used a rake to drag the bottom as far out as I could toss it from the dock.  Got other stuff.  Mostly hornwort as you can see.

73117435_macroalgaesearch1JPG.JPG.74f7b0f83e00176fb349d5ac16d8c5f8.JPG

Obviously, I didn't end up needing the tub.  Because the local macro-algae species looks so similar to hornwort, it was a lot of searching through masses of wet plants.  In the end, to no avail.

Now before anyone has a freakout, the Minnesota DNR is fully aware of what I am doing.  I checked with them about the method I am using, the species I am collecting, the quantity of said species, and the location I am trying to collect it from.  They have approved all of it. 

I'm hoping I can find this stuff before winter sets in around these parts.  But if not, I'll be starting the tank with mat forming algae species first.  Que sera, sera.  In the meantime, searching through aquatic plants is kind of fun!

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