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When is a tank mature enough???

When is a tank mature enough???

Postby Rick on Fri Sep 15, 2006 11:16 pm

Here is a reply written by Eric Borneman when someone asked him about tank maturity.

Question: Hi Eric, I was hoping you could help me to understand better what it means for a system to "mature" or "become established". Hobbyists (me included) are always saying not to keep that sps or this anenome for a least a year until your system has matured. What exactly are the differences between a tank which finished cycling a month ago and one that finished cycling 11 months ago? Does it have to do with water parameters being more stable? Does it have to do with natural food availability? Does "tank maturity" pertain more to those who utilize a DSB, because it takes 6 months for a DSB to become functional ?



Tank maturity seems to be even more of an issue without the sand bed. The sand bed just takes some time to get enough nutrients in it to sustain populations and stratify into somewhat stable communities and become functional. So, here's the tank reason, and then I'll blow into some ecology for you. When you get a tank, you start with no populations of anything. You get live rock to form the basis of the biodiversity - and remember that virtually everything is moderated by bacteria and photosynthesis in our tanks. So liverock is the substrate for all these processes, and also has a lot of life on it. How much depends on a lot of things.

Mostly, marine animals and plants don’t like to be out of water for a day at a time...much less the many days to sometimes a week that often happens. So, assuming you are not using existing rock from a tank, or the well-treated aquacultured stuff, you have live rock that is either relatively free of anything alive to begin with, or you have live rock with a few stragglers and a whole lot of stuff dying or about to die because it won’t survive in the tank. Some, if not most, rock exporters have a “curing process” that gets rid of a lot of the life to begin with and some of this is to keep it from dying and fouling further, but some of it would have lived if treated more carefully.

From the moment you start, you are in the negative. Corallines will be dying, sponges, dead worms and crustaceans and echinoids and bivalves, many of which are in the rock and you won't ever see. Not to mention the algae, cyanobacteria, and bacteria, most of which is dehydrated, dead or dying, and will decompose. This is where the existing bacteria get kick started. Bacteria grow really fast, and so they are able to grow to levels that are capable of uptaking nitrogen within...well, the cycling time of a few weeks to a month or so. The “starter bacteria” products give me a chuckle. Anyone with a passing knowledge of microbiology would realize that for a product to contain live bacteria in a medium that sustains it would quickly turn into a nearly solid mass of bacteria, and if the medium is such that it keeps them inactive, then the amount of bacteria in a bottle is like adding a grain of salt to the ocean compared to what is going to happen quickly in a tank with live rock in it.

However, if you realize the doubling time of these bugs, you would know that in a month, you should have a tank packed full of bacteria and no room for water. That means something is killing or eating bacteria. Also realize that if you have a tank with constant decomposition happening at a rate high enough to spike ammonia off the scale, you have a lot of bacteria food...way more than you will when things stop dying off and decomposing. So, bacterial growth may have caught up with the level of nitrogen being produced, but things are still dying...you just test zero for ammonia because there are enough bacteria present to keep up with the nitrogen being released by the dying stuff. It does not necessarily mean things are finished decomposing or that ammonia is not being produced.

Now, if things are decomposing, they are releasing more than ammonia. Guess what dead sponges release? All their toxic metabolites. Guess what else? All their natural antibiotic compounds which prevents some microbes from doing very well. Same with the algae, the inverts, the cyano, the dinoflagellates, etc. They all produce things that can be toxic – and sometimes toxic to things we want, and sometimes to things we don’t want. So, let's just figure this death and decomposition is going take a while.

OK, so now we have a tank packed with some kinds of bacteria, probably not much of others. Eventually the death stops. Now, what happens to all that biomass of bacteria without a food source? They die. Some continue on at an equilibrium level with the amount of nutrients available. And, denitrification is a slow process. Guess what else? Bacteria also have antibiotics, toxins, etc. all released when they die. But, the die-off is slow, relative to the loss of nutrients, and there is already a huge population, and yet you never test ammonia. "The water tests fine.” But, all these swings are happening. Swings of death, followed by growth until limited, then death again, then nutrients available for growth, and then limitation and death. But, every time, they get less and less, but they keep happening – even in mature tanks. Eventually, they slow and stabilize.

What's left? A tank with limited denitrification (because its slow and aerobic things happen fast) and a whole lot of other stuff in the water. Who comes to the rescue and thrives during these cycles? The next fastest growing groups...cyanobacteria, single celled algae, protists, ciliates, etc. Then they do their little cycle thing. And then the turf algae take advantage of the nutrients (the hair algae stage). Turfs get mowed down by all the little amphipods that are suddenly springing up because they have a food source. Maybe you've bought some snails by now, too, or a fish. And the fish dies, of course, because it may not have ammonia to contend with, but is has water filled with things we can't and don't test for...plus, beginning aquarists usually skimp on lights and pumps initially, and haven't figured out that alkalinity test, so pH and O2 are probably swinging wildly at this point.

So, the algae successions kick in, and eventually you have a good algal biomass that handles nitrogen, produces oxygen through photosynthesis, takes up the metabolic CO2 of all the other heterotrophs you can’t see, the bacteria have long settled in and also deal with nutrients, and the aquarium keeper has probably stopped adding fish for a spell because they keep dying. Maybe they started to visit boards and read books and get the knack of the tank a bit. They have probably also added a bunch of fix-it-quick chemicals that didn’t help any, either. Also, they are probably scared to add corals that would actually help with the photosynthesis and nutrient uptake, or they have packed in corals that aren't tolerant of those conditions.

About a year into it, the sand bed is productive and has stratified, water quality is stable, and the aquarist has bought a few more powerheads, understands water quality a bit, corallines and algae, if not corals and other things are photosynthesizing well, and the tank is "mature." That's when fish stop dying when you buy them (at least the cyanide free ones) and corals start to live and grow and I stop getting posts about "I just bought a coral and its dying and my tank is two months old" and they start actually answering some questions here and there instead of just asking questions (though we should all always be asking questions, if not only to ourselves!).

So, ecologically, this is successional population dynamics. Its normal, and it happens when there is a hurricane or a fire, or whatever. In nature though, you have pioneer species that are eventually replaced by climax communities. We usually try and stock immediately with climax species. And find it doesn't always work.

Now, the "too mature" system is the old tank syndrome. Happens in nature, too. That whole forest fire reinvigorating the system is true. Equally true on coral reefs where the intermediate disturbance hypothesis is the running thought on why coral reefs maintain very high diversity...they are stable, but not too stable, and require storms, but not catastrophic ones....predation, but not a giant blanket of crown of thorns, mass bleaching, or loss of key herbivores.

This goes to show what good approximations these tanks are of mini-ecosystems. Things happen much faster in tanks, but what do you expect given the bioload per unit area. So, our climax community happens in a couple years rather than a couple of centuries. Thing is, I am fully convinced that intermediate tank disturbance would prevent old tank syndrome.

My advice on starting tanks is to plan the habitat you want. Find the animals and corals you like. Learn about the tiny area of the reef you will try and recreate, and do not try to make a whole coral reef in one tank. Then, purchase the equipment required to emulate that environment. Then, add the appropriate types of substrate (sand, rubble, rock, whatever) and wait long after “your tank water tests fine” before you add fish and corals. First, add herbivores and maintain water quality. Water changes, carbon, skimming, alkalinity, calcium. Keep the water of high quality, even for things you can’t test for. Wait a few months and enjoy the growth that will happen. Then, add some of the species that you plan to keep….invertebrates and corals. They help create the environment, and also photosynthesize, add biodiversity, stabilize nutrients, etc. Then….then….add fish. The fish will have a reef as their new home. They won’t be stressed by this variable bouilllabaise of water and a strange habitat that keeps changing as things are added or die. They will have a stable tank with real habitat, and then the original concept you imagined will have happened.
Rick Beauregard
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Postby Marc on Sat Sep 16, 2006 12:07 am

Great find, Rick!
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hello

Postby mickeyw43 on Sun Jun 03, 2007 8:26 pm

great article
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Postby vanceti on Thu Oct 04, 2007 11:34 am

very nice and helpful. I have only been doing this a little over a year and I learned real quick the do's and dont's! Thanks!
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Postby logicalentropy on Mon Mar 10, 2008 8:31 pm

pardon the foulness, but F'ing A on this. For a science geek like
me who is being super anal about how long I am going to make the process of getting fish and corals into my brand new 150g RR. This is a must read for those who are in it to do it right!

Thanks for digging this article up dude.
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Postby TriggaFish99 on Mon Mar 10, 2008 10:42 pm

This is a great!

Although this article is dead on, how many folks would actually follow it. It goes against the American way of I can have everything now syndrome.

This would make a good sticky in the new to the hobby section. At least those looking for a good starter article to pull the books and stuff together.
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Postby Jeff on Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:51 am

Rick - what are your thoughts on an "intermediate tank disturbance"?

Do you mean just switching some things out every year or so? Changing the flow/temperature? Would you suggest a permanant change to swing an adjustment cycle or a 'minor temporary inconvience' to the inhabitants?
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Postby Jeff on Tue May 27, 2008 6:18 pm

Does anyone have an opinion on my previous question?
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Postby Ashlar on Tue May 27, 2008 6:46 pm

Rick was quoting Eric Bourneman in the original post, but here's my thoughts.

An 'old' tank will have decreased diversity- some species are better at outcompeting their neighbors and will eventually take over.

This doesn't necessarily mean corals, but more likely the detrivores, the sand bed infauna, the herbivores, etc. How many of us have seen 'waves' of things come and go in a progression? Stomatella snails, collonista snails, bristle worms, spaghetti worms, etc etc.

For me, an 'intermediate disturbance' includes a few chunks of uncured live rock every year, a cup of sand from another tank, different bits of macroalgae for the fuge, and new corals (haven't done the last one in a while).
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Postby Jeff on Tue May 27, 2008 6:50 pm

OK, yea, that makes a lot of sense. I just couldn't tell if he was talking about a 7 disturbance on a 10 scale or a 3 to give all the inhabitants a wake up call, "Oh, what? A new neighbor? ..cool."
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Postby Joncelone on Wed Nov 19, 2008 5:08 pm

Possibly a dumb question, but if you achieve the article's level of adding a fish, would you want to slow down the water changing process??

I've heard many times from different people that when creating a saltwater environment, it is best to get it in your head that it needs to be as natural as possible to achieve the full marine ecosystem in a tank. I understand that in the ocean the water is constantly changing, but then again it isn't.

Any ideas?
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Postby Jeff on Wed Nov 19, 2008 5:46 pm

It's not the water, but the substrate/bacteria on the substrate. Using water from an established tank in a new tank does no good in accelerating the cycle. Only if you used rock and sand from an established ecosystem colonized with bacteria already would you see a 'completed' (not really) nitrogen cycle. Same with fresh water tanks.

The water holds the results of the bacteria, not the bacteria itself. Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate... those are the products in the water that can be tested for that give an indication of what bacteria are present and doing.

I was going to post the same thing in your other thread but just had the time to put it here. :D Oh, and not dumb question by any means. 8)
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Postby Jeff on Wed Nov 19, 2008 5:53 pm

To answer your question, after that story I wrote, no, I wouldn't slow down the water changes. Marine/Reef aquaria are all about stability and consistency. I'd try to keep everything on the same schedules until there is an indicator that a change needs to be introduced. Sometimes it's our 'proactiity' that gets us into trouble.
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Postby Rick on Wed Nov 19, 2008 7:12 pm

DheereCrossing wrote:Rick - what are your thoughts on an "intermediate tank disturbance"?

Do you mean just switching some things out every year or so? Changing the flow/temperature? Would you suggest a permanant change to swing an adjustment cycle or a 'minor temporary inconvience' to the inhabitants?

I apologize for not seeing this till today. But Scott is pretty much right on as far I am concerned. Though I am not too big on taking sand from another person's tank. I always suggest if you have a refugium, that you keep 20 lbs of liverock or whatever you can fit in there. You can easily exchange it out every year with some uncured rock right out of the ocean. That keeps the biodiversity of the small (critters) we do not see and probably take for granted, fresh.
Last edited by Rick on Wed Nov 19, 2008 9:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Joncelone on Wed Nov 19, 2008 8:59 pm

I really appreciate the answers. I'm very interested in the knowledge as some can tell already because I eventually want to work my hobby up to a large 200+ SW tank.
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Postby The Landrums on Mon Dec 08, 2008 2:16 pm

Glad I read this article.....

So much to learn ... not enough room for more tanks.
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Postby Jeff on Mon Dec 08, 2008 2:22 pm

Yea, It really gives you something to think about when you want to use some chemical method to get rid of the cyano you get after a month of a new tank.
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Postby DaveG99 on Mon Dec 08, 2008 2:50 pm

That was a good read. Very good information there. I have had success transfering mature tanks and just getting a very slight cycle if any at all.
The new tank build.......
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Postby bigdaddy on Sun May 17, 2009 3:30 pm

That was a great read!. Just wondering...If you take a year old tank 55g and transfer all the sand, crushed coral, LR live stock and fish into a 135g, do you keep the "maturity" of the tank? What about using live sand straight from the ocean, like I am doing. I have another 15g of ocean sand being delivered next week. Does this constitute part of the conditioning or maitaining maturity of the tank?
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Postby Jeff on Mon May 18, 2009 11:29 am

It probably helps but it may be in a different stage from the rest of the tank and require repopulation by similar bacterial strains and algaes.

I think in any move or transfer, something will shift to throw of a delicate balance and a mini cycle will occur, it maybe undetectable with hobby test kits but something will shift.
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby v320 on Fri Jul 24, 2009 10:46 am

Thanks for posting this Rick... some great info here!
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby deep6 on Sun Nov 22, 2009 7:11 pm

.:edit:. repost later
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby ReefNut2010 on Tue Jan 26, 2010 3:28 am

O.K Deep6,

I am extremely interested in what you have to say on the subject. Post it up !!
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby dwittster on Tue Mar 23, 2010 9:53 am

[smilie=clapping.gif] Thank you! As a soon to be newbie, this tells me I am at least thinking of doing it right. So ready to have my first Marine Aquarium, but have been doing a ton of reading and research to see just how I want to leap into this. Been having a ball reading everything I can find on the forums here and at Reef Central.
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby Jeff on Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:10 am

dwittster wrote:[smilie=clapping.gif] Thank you! As a soon to be newbie, this tells me I am at least thinking of doing it right. So ready to have my first Marine Aquarium, but have been doing a ton of reading and research to see just how I want to leap into this. Been having a ball reading everything I can find on the forums here and at Reef Central.


Sounds like you're doing it right. Now, just don't let me read about you putting multiple fish (including a Mandarin dragonette) and 10 coral frags in the tank after a month of being set up! [smilie=wink.gif]
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby Renmar on Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:19 am

DheereCrossing wrote:
dwittster wrote:[smilie=clapping.gif] Thank you! As a soon to be newbie, this tells me I am at least thinking of doing it right. So ready to have my first Marine Aquarium, but have been doing a ton of reading and research to see just how I want to leap into this. Been having a ball reading everything I can find on the forums here and at Reef Central.


Sounds like you're doing it right. Now, just don't let me read about you putting multiple fish (including a Mandarin dragonette) and 10 coral frags in the tank after a month of being set up! [smilie=wink.gif]


But that sounds like fun, Dheere! You mean I can't do that? Darn the luck :D
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby dwittster on Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:22 am

Nope. Thinking I am going to do this completely backward actually. Was given an old 55 gal by a friend. Thinking of setting it up as a refugium first. Use it to cure out some live rock and sand then setting up a 75-100 gallon as the display. I don't plan to have anything in either tank but rock and some macro algae for at least a couple three months. I have watched too many friends and relatives lose hundreds in livestock from a lack of patience.
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby Jeff on Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:54 am

Sweet! Way to go! I'd suggest that one you have that set up, get the water really moving and occasionally give the tank a little food to keep the bacteria happy (creating ammonia) and to feed the new tiny creatures that will be popping up.
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby AKWDFW on Sun Jul 31, 2011 6:28 pm

I agree with everything Eric says and I want to add something.. With regards to cyano bacteria.. People LOVE to recommend using products to kill cyano.. Every one of them that I've ever seen are basically a serious anti-biotic that kills not only the cyano, but every other bacteria in the system.. And then, since the rest of the bacteria are dead, there's nothing else to eat the waste, so the cyano kicks right back in..

Best thing most people can do is increase the flow, keep clean water, and stop adding fish.. Patience is the number one rule..
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When is a tank mature enough???

Postby coralreefer on Sun Jul 31, 2011 7:09 pm

AKWDFW wrote:I agree with everything Eric says and I want to add something.. With regards to cyano bacteria.. People LOVE to recommend using products to kill cyano.. Every one of them that I've ever seen are basically a serious anti-biotic that kills not only the cyano, but every other bacteria in the system.. And then, since the rest of the bacteria are dead, there's nothing else to eat the waste, so the cyano kicks right back in..

Best thing most people can do is increase the flow, keep clean water, and stop adding fish.. Patience is the number one rule..


Please post your source info for this!
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby Marc on Sun Jul 31, 2011 7:36 pm

I can't agree with that statement.
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby Rick on Sun Jul 31, 2011 8:16 pm

Cyanobacteria are often treated with antibiotics, addressing the symptom rather then the cause. Antibiotics are not very selective in what bacteria get killed. Cyano is gram negative (thin cell wall) in much the same way as the beneficial bacteria are.

http://www.algone.com/aquarium-articles ... nobacteria
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When is a tank mature enough???

Postby kuyatwo on Sun Jul 31, 2011 8:34 pm

Alot of people use chemiclean which is an oxidizer to rid their cyano. Just make sure if you do use it you have enough water to do a water change as it real starts foaming up your skimmer.
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When is a tank mature enough???

Postby coralreefer on Sun Jul 31, 2011 8:39 pm

I have used Chemiclean a few times, of course following all of the recommendations. Each time, I knock back the cyano, but don't ever see an increase in ammonium, nitrite, or nitrate. They all remain at zero. I have not witnessed any I'll effects of using the cyano remover. How could it kill much beneficial bacteria without a change in any of these testable parameters? Is there a test to assess abundance and diversity of beneficial bacteria?
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby AKWDFW on Sun Jul 31, 2011 9:37 pm

The first place I sought when I started the hobby: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/bluegralgae.htm

You can get more info from there.. Most cyano "killers" are wide spectrum anti-biotics.. Or snake oil.. Either way, I don't think anyone can argue that patience and good water conditions are a better way to rid your tank of cyano than medications..
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby Marc on Mon Aug 01, 2011 1:42 am

My water couldn't be more perfect, yet I had cyano appearing in some areas. Conditions for a bloom can happen to anyone.
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Re: When is a tank mature enough???

Postby AKWDFW on Mon Aug 01, 2011 8:08 am

Well.. And I guess my point was that if you read the above reply from Eric and you understand that to some degree cyano can be expected during initial cycling and maturity of the tank, you should simply try to keep your water quality high and your flow vigorous instead of dumping chemicals in the water which can and will kill bacteria which are benficial as well as the cyano..
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