Mastering Freshwater Aquarium Ecosystems
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Nitrogen Cycle (Cont.)

It is common for ammonia and nitrite to reach toxic levels in a new aquarium. When this happens, you need to take immediate action. When dealing with toxic levels of ammonia and nitrite, near 100% water changes are in order. Make sure the new water is dechlorinated and the temperature is within a few degrees of the aquarium. Test the aquarium water a couple days after the water change to get a reading on how fast ammonia or nitrite is accumulating. You may need to do additional water changes to keep ammonia or nitrite down, until bacteria populations have reach a high enough level to reduce it faster than it accumulates.

Establishing Nitrifying Bacteria

Since nitrifying bacteria live on surface area in the aquarium, some ways to speed up the establishment of the nitrogen cycle is to add the top ¼ inch (.5 cm) layer of substrate, rocks, aquarium decorations, or filter from an established aquarium. Adding a bacteria booster like DrTim's Aquatics “One and Only” will also help establish beneficial nitrifying bacteria to the system.

Dr. Tim's One and Only

DrTim's Aquatics One and Only is one product that has the correct nitrifying bacteria to seed a new aquarium. Many other products on the market clam to do the same thing, but they have the incorrect bacteria for aquariums, and do not work. Photo from DrTim's Aquatics.

An aquarium filter cannot oxidize ammonia and nitrite without Nitrosospira, Nitrosomonas and Nitrospira bacteria.

Acidic pH can affect the bacteria's ability to convert ammonia to nitrate. A low pH (below 6.0) can be hostile for a healthy beneficial bacteria population. When cycling an aquarium keep the pH above 7.0. In established aquariums with a pH below 6.0, it is not unusual to see an ammonia reading, due to a decreased bacterial population to process ammonia/ammonium.

If you don't do anything to introduce nitrifying bacteria to a new aquarium, amazingly it will develop on its own, but you will have a greater risk of losing fish.

Fauna Transplantation

The best way to introduce beneficial bacteria to a new aquarium is by doing a substrate fauna transplantation. The technique not only introduces nitrifying bacteria, but also anaerobic, as well as many other beneficial species of bacteria that have yet to be studied.

To do a fauna transplantation, you must use some kind of shovel, or deep plastic container to remove a deep scoop of substrate (preferably all the way to the bottom) from an established aquarium and place it gently into a new aquarium, placing new substrate around it.  The key is to try not to disturb the substrate layers when removing from the donor aquarium and inserting into the new aquarium. Eventually the bacteria species within the established substrate will colonize the rest of the substrate in the new aquarium.

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