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Algae: Friend or Foe?

This is partly in response to Roger Miller's post on algae control and partly in response to 
all the on-going posts relating to "getting rid of algae". 

At first glance, the answer to the Subject: question is obviously and 
unequivocally "FOE!".  End of story. End of thread. Thankyouverymuch. 

However, on second glance, I'm not so sure.  I certainly practice algae control 
in my tanks but the sight of algae does not send me running to the bleach 
section of my local grocery store nor does it cause me to rend my garments in 
fear and frustration. I consider algae a natural part of the quasi-ecosystem in 
my tanks and I like to think I'm dealing with algae in a natural manner using 
appropriate herbivores. 

Anyone claiming that they are providing a "natural" environment but who goes out 
of their way to "eliminate" algae isn't paying attention. Almost all photos I've 
seen of natural plant ecosystems seem to have two characteristics that are not 
found in a typical plant tank - mostly a single species of plant AND lot's of 

I'm definitely NOT saying that we should all have single plant species in our 
tanks and I certainly don't advocate an algae farm. I enjoy my planted tanks for 
their aesthetic beauty and neither of these attributes would qualify (except, of 
course, for certain Amano-style arrangements).  

But why would I consider algae a "friend"? 

We use Dupla products and concepts to provide a nurturing environment for the 
plants. This same environment is also good for higher forms of algae. Trying to 
carefully control the environment to allow plants to thrive but to prevent algal 
growth seems, to me at least, somewhat contradictive. I've read the seminal 
Sears-Conlin paper relating to PMDD and applaud their efforts but I have to 
think that this cannot completely prevent algae growth while still providing a 
proper environment for plants. I may, of course, be wrong. 

While the Dupla techniques do allow for algae, they also allow for algae control 
via algae eaters. We've always had algae eaters and we always add algae eaters 
immediately upon starting a planted tank. Only in cases where the algae eater 
population is too sparse have we had algae problems, i.e., more visible algae 
than I feel is aesthetically acceptable. 

We still need to wipe the glass at water changes and deal with the ubiquitous 
"green spot algae", but I find that acceptable. We rarely scrape the back of the 
tank and just let algae build up since it is hidden by the plants.  Slow growing 
leaves will collect some "red algae" roots (black areas) that the Siamese Algae 
Eaters can't get to but growth is fast enough, even on Anubias, that such leaves 
are simply removed when they become annoying.

We have a good assortment of algae eaters to deal with different types of algae. 
They obviously come in different sizes and shapes and with different algae 
removal equipment so it stands to reason that an assortment would be best at 
dealing with different algae types. Trying to depend on a single type of algae 
eater would be fruitless. 

We use Siamese Algae Eaters to control the red brush algae ("the only thing 
known to eat this"), otocinclus and farlowella to take care of soft algae types 
that adhere to flat surfaces, and yet more otocinclus to get at algae stuck in 
small places.  We also have bristle nose plecos but we never see them so we're 
not sure what they eat - I assume algae on flat surfaces, given their sucker 
mouth. The SAEs seem to always be grazing over all the plants, so I suppose 
their nibbling mouths keep hair-type algaes at bay. And, of course, Malaysian 
Trumpet Snails are always out at night, happily scraping off whatever they 
scrape off. 

Amano, for another example, seems to use a combination of SAE, otocinclus and 
his famous Marsh shrimp. "The Optimum Aquarium" book also describes a variety of 
algae eaters.  
So, in one respect, algae is a friend because it keeps all the algae eaters well 
fed and they are cool to watch. OK, I admit that is somewhat circular reasoning. 

But the algae consumes nutrients, the algae eaters consume algae and recycle it 
back. It just seems natural. Also, I'm sure there are smaller fauna in the tank 
that also live on tender young algae shoots and provide food for whatever unseen 
food chain might exist. And many species of decorative fish require some greens 
in their diet. I would think that this richer diversity would provide a 
healthier environment that a more sterile approach completely devoid of algae 
would afford. 

Food for thought.  <G>

George Booth in Ft. Collins, Colorado
 Do you want to know how I did it?