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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:06 am 
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Joined: Sat Sep 17, 2005 3:21 am
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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Cycling A Biofilter For Use In Acid Water Aquaria
Many aquarists who enjoy keeping tropical blackwater species and blackwater habitat aquariums are people with a rather artistic, sometimes more than plainly scientific vein.
They make a good effort and have informed themselves well about what their fishes’ habitat looks like and how to recreate not only the visual image of what can see under water in a tropical lake, river or lagoon, but also to simulate physical and chemical water parameters to the extremes sometimes necessary to guarantee the life of some of the more delicate species, and of course, to try and maintain these parameters for the long term well being of their specimens.
When we deal with some of these species, i.e. Pterophyllum altum, Uaru fernandezyepezi and Satanoperca daemon, to name only three species that originate in the Alto Orinoco and Ventuari subbasins in Venezuela, we are dealing with species which come from some of the most pristine waters on our planet, water so pure, that personally, I have used running water from streams in this area as potable and cooking water, without treatment (boiled only while cooking), for my own consumption, for several weeks at a time with no ill results. Not that I recommend it, just that I had ran out of chlorine tabs.
In some of the tributaries of the Orinoco, such as the Rio Atabapo, the water can have a pH under 4.0, at times between 3.5 and 3.8. In some places, the water may have minimal or no conductivity, no general hardness, no carbonate hardness. We still find fish living there.
Fish that have evolved in these waters have a comparatively weak immune system. This is because pH is so low that bacteria have a very difficult time growing. Since the bacteria, and other pathogen as well, are so scarce, or virtually inexistent, the fish are not exposed to them and hence, do not have the opportunity to allow their immune systems to face any considerable array or spectrum of pathogens and their immune system becomes highly specialized, which is a bad thing when you come to live in a closed system (our aquariums).
Likewise, aquatic life, zoo and plant in general, are scarce in these waters. Fish species normally migrate in and out of these harsher tributaries on a seasonal basis. This is because microbial life, also being scarce, and constituting the base of the food chain, all other life that depends on it is also minimal. They will look for more abundant food at times, or will return to these niches when Mother Nature delivers a feast of insects, fruits and other life forms, along with the heavy rains that fill these channels with forest debris, millions of tons of dead plant matter and mineral substrate. This debris, especially gigaloads of dead plant material in the form of leaves, roots and wood, once waterlogged will sink and form deep layers in the calmer parts of the rivers. It is here that the heaviest production of tannins and humic acids takes place, which slowly leak into the very soft and very warm water, that when seen in depth give us that impression of a river filled with a very dark brew of crystalline black tea.
The blackwater species that live in these extreme water conditions (I will use Altum as an example) have no tolerance for any amount of toxicity in the water. Less yet, can they reasonably tolerate any amount of ammonia (NH3) or nitrite (NH2) in the water column.
When in our aquariums, altum, become affected very quickly by only traces of ammonia and/or nitrite, since they have highly sensitive gills. I compare the phenomenon to an allergic reaction.
In few words, trying to keep altum in an alkaline environment is like playing Russian Roulet. If anything would go wrong with you biofilter, such as a power outage when you are gone for several hours, you will come home to disaster.
For altum to truly enjoy life and to give us the joy of seeing them in optimum health, and hopefully, breed, acid water is a must, and anyone saying the contrary, just wants to complicate your life.
For a start, acid water does not allow the presence of ammonia (NH3) and any ammonia in a non cycled acid water tank can only occur in the form of ammonium (NH4). AmmoniUM, is much less toxic than ammonIA and can be tolerated by even sensitive fish in much higher concentrations than ammonIA.
Taking this into consideration, one might ask, then why, is a biofilter important in an acid water aquarium if ammonium is so innocuous.
Well, did I say it was innocuous? No, I said it can be tolerated in higher concentrations than ammonia. And altum, are among those species, who will react even to relatively small amounts of ammonium. This reaction will be slower (compared to the ammonia reaction), and the fish will look stressed, darker, show a decreased interest in food, and eventually become symptomatic in one way or another.
In short, yes, we need our biofilters to take care of this issue.
But the problem is that at the acid pH I recommend for keeping altum (4.5 to 5.5 range), the biofilter will cycle thoroughly or quickly, sometimes not at all, given reasonable time.
This is because when you add nitrifying bacteria cultures to a moderately acid aquarium, most of the culture dies on contact with the water or a very short time thereafter.
So what can we do to cycle a biofilter for our blackwater, quite acid, very soft watered, altum tank?
Though I have my way of doing things, before sitting down to write an article on something I may not be 100% familiar in detail, because I am not a chemist, I decided to contact probably one of the persons who has most knowledge and the best of reputations when it comes down to nitrifying bacteria. So I wrote to Dr. Timothy Hovanec, creator of Biospira, Tetra Safestart and his own, Dr Tim’s One and Only Nitrifying Bacteria.
Tim was responsible for producing the product “BiospiraTMâ€

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