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Algae consumption of Ammonia

Posted By SantaMonica 11/8/2008 1:31:06 AM
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SantaMonica
 Posted 11/8/2008 1:31:06 AM
 

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Some other sites are making issue that algae, in particular algae on a scrubber, does not consume ammonia directly. I was under the understanding that algae prefers consuming ammonia first, then N and P second. Is this correct?

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charlesr1958
 Posted 11/8/2008 3:59:43 AM
 

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SantaMonica (11/8/2008)
Some other sites are making issue that algae, in particular algae on a scrubber, does not consume ammonia directly. I was under the understanding that algae prefers consuming ammonia first, then N and P second. Is this correct?

 Actualy, algae much prefer ammonium (NH4) as they can use it directly at no energy cost. Whereas with nitrates, they must first convert it into ammonium in order to use it, all of which costs the algae energy to do so.  In a typical aquarium, ammonium oxidizing bacteria would rapidly convert any ammonium production into nitrites and nitrates thus competing with the algae and forcing it to use it mostly in its nitrate form.   With such rapid conversions and use of ammonium by any number of organisms, I fail to see how there would be any concern with ammonium levels in an aquarium.  If one can detect ammonium, algae using it or not would be the least of my worries and would focus on the source of the ammonium and why my aquarium's organisms are not able to use it as fast as it is produced.  I don't even own a test kit for it or nitrites as its rapid conversion and use makes such test kits all but useless except to monitor a newly established aquarium. In my opinion that is.

 Carbon dioxide is another much sought after molecule but is rarely (for now at least) available in any great amount to where algae can use it directly, although they would much prefer to do so as it also comes at much less energy cost than for the algae to have to take in the more readily available bicarbonates and reduce it into carbon dioxide.

In short, have "them" google "ammonia and algae" and they will find more than enough to read up on the subject.  With such online resources available, having to argue or make assumptions is to me, just being lazy....BigGrin

Chuck

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Eric Borneman
 Posted 11/8/2008 5:37:26 AM
 

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I can't even think of anything to add to that response. That had already been established before the hobby even existed and was certainly well known at the inception of the hobby and outlined in major seminal books in the hobby, including TRA, TMCRA, and Dynamic Aquaria.

No, I can think of something to add. There is no "order" in terms of N and P. They use them both and are both macronutrients. It's not like algae, or plants, need nitrogen but ignore phosphorus. They are both taken up proportionately to the metabolism and growth and species. Maximum growth depends on the NTongue ratio and the lifestage.

Also, was there some exception being made in the "growing on a screen" part as opposed to growing elsehwere?


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SantaMonica
 Posted 11/8/2008 7:40:32 PM
 

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No, it was in reference to two different situations: Cycling, and a highly loaded FO tank with no skimmer/sand/rock. Both using a scrubber, of course. My take was that a scrubber would handle the ammonia/ammonium by itself.



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Eric Borneman
 Posted 11/9/2008 5:46:57 AM
 

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Well, neither are really correct. They are both situations largely mediated by bacteria, whether it is the overwhelming decomposition that occurs during cycling while bacteria grow to a population that can utilize it all, then declines once the decomposition stops to a more stable but variable level, and primarily bacteria that are the consumers of general metabolic production of ammonium as urea or other waste and death (people fail to realize, I think, of how much birth and death occurs over a day in a tank because we generally observe macroprocesses and big things like fish and corals). The nitrification of NH4 to NO3 is almost instantaneous, for all practical purposes, but those instantaneous moments are happening all the time all over and there are pulses (like with fish waste, or food additions) that make more lasting areas of nitrogen enrichment (not very long lasting, just longer). The point is that corals, bacteria, algae, and others can utilize these dissolved sources of N, and in oligotrophic reef water, NH4 predominates and is most available (at very low levels) over NO2 or NO3. The uptake of N across any cell membrane is also practically instantaneous, and so the dominant form will naturally be the one most used. In tanks, NO3 tends to de the dominant form, and while utilized, generally not so efficiently as NH4. But in any case, the algae, especially fast growing ones (like turfs -and phytoplankton, but these are barely or not really algae at all) take up ammonia the same in a cycling tank and a stable mature one. There is no biochemical difference, just a difference in the dynamics given the availability and stability of existing uptake populations.

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beaslbob
 Posted 11/10/2008 8:44:39 AM
 

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SantaMonica (11/8/2008)
Some other sites are making issue that algae, in particular algae on a scrubber, does not consume ammonia directly. I was under the understanding that algae prefers consuming ammonia first, then N and P second. Is this correct?

Kinda late to the discussion here but the above shows ignorance in how plant life works. 

Sure some plant life can get it's nitrogen from nitrogen gas (cyano, soybeans are two examples), but to flatly say algae does no consume ammonia directly is just plain ignorance.

Even if the algae prefers ammonia and nitrates equally what will happen on a cycling tank with macors, an fully populated truf screen, or cured live rock fully covered with corraline, macros and other algaes, is you will not see any ammonia spike but an almost immediate bump up of nitrates to 10-20 ppm or so.  Then as the tank matures and more ammonia is being reduced with aerobic bacteria,  nitrates will drop down after a few weeks.  And during the cycle you will see little to no ammonia or nitrIte spikes.

Of course if you don't have sufficient algae that may not happen but it will and can with extensive algaes present right at the start.

Meanwhile after that initial cycle say something goes bump in the night.  I fish dies.  Over feeding. A bunch of fish are added.   Whatever.  You will have bump up of ammonia production.  So what happens is instead of the deap diangerous ammonia->nitrIte spikes, the algae consumes the ammonia directly.  With a bump up in nitrates (10-20ppm) for a few weeks.  Then the nitrates drop down as the tank adjusts or the bump in the night goes away.

Hey just my thoughts and experience.

my .02

55g mixed reef - 2002. 10g planted 2001 years 20-30 fish, 20g planted 2007. all no water changes, tap water, only dose calsium/alk/mag on salt. FW planted no filter, no circulation

SantaMonica
 Posted 11/10/2008 10:01:45 AM
 

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Good points. I've been recommending folks to start their scrubbers while cycling. Also, I'm planning an eel-only tank and don't want any rock or sand or fuge or skimmer (maybe just a few hermits to break up the waste.)

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Eric Borneman
 Posted 11/10/2008 6:30:25 PM
 

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>Even if the algae prefers ammonia and nitrates equally what will happen on a cycling tank with macors, an fully populated truf screen, or cured live rock fully covered with corraline, macros and other algaes, is you will not see any ammonia spike but an almost immediate bump up of nitrates to 10-20 ppm or so. Then as the tank matures and more ammonia is being reduced with aerobic bacteria, nitrates will drop down after a few weeks. And during the cycle you will see little to no ammonia or nitrIte spikes.

Of course if you don't have sufficient algae that may not happen but it will and can with extensive algaes present right at the start.

Meanwhile after that initial cycle say something goes bump in the night. I fish dies. Over feeding. A bunch of fish are added. Whatever. You will have bump up of ammonia production. So what happens is instead of the deap diangerous ammonia->nitrIte spikes, the algae consumes the ammonia directly. With a bump up in nitrates (10-20ppm) for a few weeks. Then the nitrates drop down as the tank adjusts or the bump in the night goes away.

Hey just my thoughts and experience.<<

Well, sort of. We are in the dangerous of area of lumping bacteria, lumping algae, and lumping processes again. You have to recognize that there are lot of species on coral reefs that compete heavily for nitrogen from different sources, including dissolved forms. Some are able to do it more efficiently than others even with equivalent biomass, or by quickly responding by growing and reproducing.

The turf species that are common at intertidal areas and that tend to colonize turf screens in aquariums are very fast growing and also generally very good at nitrogen uptake from the water. They actually trap sediments which are sources of dissolved nutrients as they break down. The various species that we depend on (bacteria, cyanobacteria, various algae) or intentionally use (i.e Chaetomorpha, Caulerpa, Xenia, mangroves, seagrasses, etc.) are all "nutrient export" species. We choose them based on a number of factors - how fast they grow, how efficiently they take up nutrients, how easy they are to export, how invasive they are, how toxic they are, how much we inherently like them (Aiptasia "filters being one that while efficient is probably not desirable).

No matter if the tank is new and cycling, steady and healthy, or a die off of the tank or a fish loss, there is a constant interplay of nutrients being produced, released, taken up and sequestered and used. The dyamics change, but the processes do not.

Dynamic Aquaria, and indeed the original premise for ATS or algae filtration, pushed the true statement that the turfs will use ammonium preferentially and thus short-circuit, in a way, the normal microbial path to nitrate. In other words, ammonium is taken up and used directly for the nitrogen needs of the algae. While true, as I mentioned, ammonium is being produced throughout the tank and doesn't linger around waiting for algae to take it up. Where locally available, sure, but in the scheme of things, this is not a major benefit of using algae as uptake, especially since they can use nitrate (although not as easily). The big benefit of turfs as nutrient uptake and export, if needed or desired, by removal of the turfs as they grow, is that they grow faster the macroalgae in biomass, are generally not producers of prolific secondary metabolites (their defense and competition is fast growth), and they are confined to a specific area and are thus not invasive. Even if some get released into the tank, they are very palatable and are a treat for herbivorous fishes and invertebrates. In fact, turfs are havens for copepods, amphipods, ostracods, and polychaetes, favoring their reproduction.

So, if there is a big tank crash or a fish dies in a small tank, algae (turfs or otherwise) will not take up ammonia fast enough to save the tank. Nor will skimmers. Nor will bacteria. I think most of us have experienced this. But, turfs respond quicker than, say, Caulerpa or Xenia though not as fast as bacteria. To keep ammonia low in such situations, you have to use water changes in addition to these other uptake mechanisms, perhaps even ammnia-binding agents if levels are really high as a temporary fix. What turfs are, essentially, are excellent nitrogen and phosphorus uptake species with a number of benefits over many other species faster growing, less invasive, more efficient and less toxic than macroalgae, much more efficient by fast growth than Xenia, and far more effective in most tanks than seagrasses (which require so much more light, sediments, symbiotic microbes, benthic nutrients, and space) or mangroves (that grow into 5-15m tall trees over decades) are are just rather useless for nutrient uptake species. In fact, feeding them is almost essential to get them to even exist in a tank.

>>Good points. I've been recommending folks to start their scrubbers while cycling. Also, I'm planning an eel-only tank and don't want any rock or sand or fuge or skimmer (maybe just a few hermits to break up the waste.) <<

Scrubbers are good for cycling, but I think they will only help and should be used in ocnjunction with water changes, skmming, and any other potential mechanism to keep ammonia at non-toxic levels to preserve whatever little life is present in these initial tank phases. Making sure there is some significant amount of estabished rock, sand, or rubble will also help as you get the bacterial diversity present and able to jump quickly into logarhythmic growth (bacteria starter products have a fraction of viable bacteria compared to a handful of live sand).


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Eric Borneman

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beaslbob
 Posted 11/12/2008 2:06:05 PM
 

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Thanks Eric.

And you brought back memories (nightmares?) of my 55g crash where the macros did not keep up with the ammonia being produced.  I think I introduced a toxin that rose ammonia to over 8ppm in less than 4 hours.  Ouch. 

I know I sound like a one trick pony but I am still amazed at how posters on other boards  actively insist that algaes do not consume ammonia.  Or that they do not "switch" from nitrates to ammonia should ammonia become available.  Then there are those that insist (in the FW forums) that plants consume ammonia is a bad thing because it prevents the bacteria from building up.

I fully agree with your ideas and always learn from your posts.  I respect that there are more things in a dynamic interaction that any one thing considered quasi statically.

I just think the average aquariumists would be better served of plant life was given a more equal footing to all the other stuff.

But then my 55g with a macro refugium does not have sps corals either because the few I tried had RTN problems.

my .02

55g mixed reef - 2002. 10g planted 2001 years 20-30 fish, 20g planted 2007. all no water changes, tap water, only dose calsium/alk/mag on salt. FW planted no filter, no circulation

Eric Borneman
 Posted 11/13/2008 5:32:27 PM
 

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>>I know I sound like a one trick pony but I am still amazed at how posters on other boards actively insist that algaes do not consume ammonia. Or that they do not "switch" from nitrates to ammonia should ammonia become available. Then there are those that insist (in the FW forums) that plants consume ammonia is a bad thing because it prevents the bacteria from building up.<<

I'm amazed, too. Algae aren't really plants, but in this case they might as well be. Tell someone to look at the ingredients on a bag of fertilizer sometime.

>>I just think the average aquariumists would be better served of plant life was given a more equal footing to all the other stuff.<<

I agree, but few probably realize most of the life on even healthy coral reefs is algae, even if its not yacky overgrowing macroalgae. Same with tanks. Drop a small BB in a tank, or a penny on a reef, and most of the time it will land on algae covered substrate. The notion of 100% coral cover is a visual one, not a benthic one and such reefs are very rare.

>>But then my 55g with a macro refugium does not have sps corals either because the few I tried had RTN problems.<,

I doubt they are related. What corals?


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Eric Borneman

The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. How can I?
Light up the darkness.
- Bob Marley

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