Re: F/W micro-organisms

Hi everyone,

Both Paul K. and Steve P. have recently posted messages discussing
micro-flora and micro-fauna and the possible effects that viable
populations of these organisims could have on our tanks, specifically at
controlling excessive algae growth. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity
to look at a drop of water from a mature aquarium through a microscope
would agree that there is a whole world in there. Natural waters (i.e. from
a pond or stream) will show even more variety and activity.

The microscopic life that exists in an aquatic ecosystem is an integral
part of that ecosystem. If it is absent, no truly long term stability is
achievable without massive inputs of energy (i.e. sterilization and exotic
types of filtration). To my knowledge, very little has ever been written in
the popular aquarium press about the creatures at this end of the size
spectrum and their importance to the health of an aquarium.

A lot of the micro-fauna are filter feeders and will help remove small
particles of uneaten food before it has a chance to decompose and add to
the nutrient load in a tank. Micro-flora can act as sponges for excess
dissolved nutrients such as phosphate, thus acting as a break on runaway
macro algae growth. Both types of miniature life can, in turn, be used by
the fish in the tank as supplemental food sources, making the tank at least
partially self-sufficient.

There are several problems which have to be looked at and overcome before
such a system can become effective however. The first is balance. A small
tank can only support so much life and if there is too much of any one
kind, the other end of the scale can become overwhelmed. As some of you
have previously noted, our aquariums are NOT natural environments, they are
more closely alligned to highly manicured gardens, with the aquarist
attempting, with various degrees of success to play the part of Mother

Certain types of micro-flora and fauna are truly cosmopolitan, being found
in numerous habitats world-wide. Others, alas, are probably site-specific
and unless you live close to a source, they might not be present in your
tank. The challenge is to determine which inhabitants of this small
universe are present naturally in the habitats our fish come from and to
sort out those which might cause damage to our fish and to introduce only
those which will be beneficial in our miniature ecosystem.

As Audey noted in "The Dynamic Aquarium", a number of these organisms are,
at least at some point in their life cycles, motile and therefore vunerable
to being damaged by the pumps we use to move water in our tanks. Try
putting a powerhead into a culture of mixed sized brine shrimp and you will
soon understand the sort of damage that a pump of this nature can have on
creatures small enough to be sucked through it. Audey suggests alternative
methods of moving water but, again to my knowledge no archimedes screw type
pumps are marketed within the aquarium trade and the only alternative seems
to be to revert to using air-driven filters. The introduction of the
powerhead, replacing the older air-driven filter systems has probably been
the equivalent to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs when you discuss
microscopic inhabitants of our aquariums. Remember the popularity of pate
after the introduction of the Cuisinart?

Marine Reef keepers seem much more aware of the importance of these small
organisms to the health of their tanks and it would problably be valuable
to look at their methods and see if any of them could be adapted to our
freshwater habitats. After many years of avoiding the use of substrates,
Reefkeepers are now employing "live sand" in their tanks. This "living
sand" comes, at least in part, from tropical and subtropical seas complete
with natural loads of micro-organisms (and macro-organisms) which are
helping our Marine friends keep their aquariums healthy. In the same vein,
the use of "live rock" with it's abundant load of miniature inhabitants has
demonstrated how important these organisms are in keeping a system working
long term.

I think that any company with the courage to research and package actual
cultures of micro-flora and micro-fauna from different regions of the
world, say Amazonia or South-East Asia, would find a ready market. Such a
product could indeed lay claim to the name "Miracle Amazon Extract" (and
escape the wrath of people like me), and might help us achieve more
balanced aquariums.

Are there any subscribers to this list who live in any of the following
areas: the Amazon Basin area of South America, anywhere in South-East Asia
outside of a major urban area, equitorial Africa, preferably from a well
forested country? It might be possible, if viable samples could be
collected, for us to actually do this for ourselves. Fish and plants are
shipped via air freight all over the world and it should be possible to do
the same for small samples of natural material from aquatic enviroments in
the tropics. These samples could be studied and cultured and then
distributed to individuals who would like to try a more natural approach to
keeping aquaria.

Anyway, that's my thought for the day. Anyone who wishes to discuss this
further, you have me e-mail address.

James Purchase
Toronto, Ontario
jpp at inforamp_net

P.S.  Recently, Paul S. asked me to start using carriage returns on my
messages. I'm sorry if I'm displaying a glaring lack of net knowledge, but
my system (Windows 95) does word-wrap automatically and carriage returns
are only necessary at paragraph breaks. How to the rest of you receive the
posts which I make? Should I be hitting the return key at the end of every
line (I also operate my system at 1024 X 768) instead of relying on the
software to break my prose as it sees fit?

Do different systems handle this housekeeping chore differently?