Is additional bio-filtration needed or even desirable? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-20-2018, 01:48 AM Thread Starter
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Is additional bio-filtration needed or even desirable?

Greetings Everyone,

For the purposes of this thread, please assume the following characteristics of the aquarium:

1.) Good water flow within the tank;
2.) Surface skimming and good gas exchange;
3.) Good substrate like ADA Aqua Soil;
4.) Iwagumi-style aquascape and plant load;
5.) Low to moderate fish/invert bio load;
6.) EI dosing with 50% weekly water changes;

Given the above aquarium characteristics, is additional biological filtration necessary, or even desired? Won't the substrate and rocks be colonized with bacteria to convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate?

Sorry if this is a crazy question. I have combed the archives and read several threads on this topic, but most seem to somehow devolve into a debate over a filtered versus filterless aquarium, which is very different from the question that I put before you now.

Thank you in advance for your input.

Cheers,
TMQ
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-20-2018, 02:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mighty Quinn View Post
Greetings Everyone,

For the purposes of this thread, please assume the following characteristics of the aquarium:

1.) Good water flow within the tank;
2.) Surface skimming and good gas exchange;
3.) Good substrate like ADA Aqua Soil;
4.) Iwagumi-style aquascape and plant load;
5.) Low to moderate fish/invert bio load;
6.) EI dosing with 50% weekly water changes;

Given the above aquarium characteristics, is additional biological filtration necessary, or even desired? Won't the substrate and rocks be colonized with bacteria to convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate?

Sorry if this is a crazy question. I have combed the archives and read several threads on this topic, but most seem to somehow devolve into a debate over a filtered versus filterless aquarium, which is very different from the question that I put before you now.

Thank you in advance for your input.

Cheers,
TMQ
You do not mention any filtration at all, so it does seem like what you are asking is a filtered vs filterless question. I am a strong believer in filtration. If you are only asking about the biological part of the equation, I would be hesitant to depend on rocks and substrate to provide enough biological filtration. I am sure it is possible. For all I know, it may work beautifully. I would not do it myself though.

I may come across as a know-it-all. In reality, I have no idea.
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-20-2018, 11:57 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by AguaScape View Post
You do not mention any filtration at all, so it does seem like what you are asking is a filtered vs filterless question.
Hi AquaScape

I hesitate to use the term "filterless" because the tank I am using has a built-in filter area that has good water flow. This area is where the heater and CO2 injection are located.

I think what I'm asking is do I need filter media, specifically biological filter media (e.g. Fluval Biomax or something similar).

It probably sounds like a silly question to most of you, but I come from the saltwater reef aquarium world where biological filter media is shunned. Folks with reef aquariums want all of the biological filtration to happen on the rocks and in the substrate. Even mechanical filtration is only used for short durations because of the fear that it could "go biological".

I was just wondering if anyone was running a planted tank without biological filter media, and if so, learn a bit more about their setup and how well it works for them.

Cheers,
TMQ
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-20-2018, 01:07 PM
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I think most people on here are under the impression more is better when it comes to Freshwater Filtration.

If you have space for bio media or another filter then I would add it, you aren't going to do any damage having additional filtration.

The best way to know though would be just constantly check your water parameters and if your not happy with your levels then add more biomedia and see if that helps.

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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-20-2018, 02:31 PM
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The media you put in your sump does not have to be labeled "biological". Pretty much anything you put in there will be colonized by bacteria. Sponges, ceramic noodles, lava rock, and so on.
The "biological" media is designed to have high surface area for the bacteria but I bet, in a planted tank, you have plenty of surface just on the plants.
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-20-2018, 11:01 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by OVT View Post
The media you put in your sump does not have to be labeled "biological". Pretty much anything you put in there will be colonized by bacteria. Sponges, ceramic noodles, lava rock, and so on.
The "biological" media is designed to have high surface area for the bacteria but I bet, in a planted tank, you have plenty of surface just on the plants.
Thanks OVT.

I understand that anything you put into your filter will eventually become a biological filter. Also, I suspect that you are correct in that the plants and substrate provide sufficient surface area to prevent any ammonia and/or nitrite buildup once the aquarium is established.

I think that I am having a difficult time constructing the question I want answered in this thread, so my apologies. It is clear that this issue is one of the many big differences between marine reef and freshwater planted aquariums.

Thanks to everyone who responded to this thread. I plan to start the aquarium with the dry start method. After flooding I will monitor ammonia and nitrite carefully, and replace mechanical filtration frequently before it becomes a biological filter. If it turns out that ammonia and/or nitrite are problematic, I'll add biological media to the filter as needed.

Cheers everyone,
TMQ
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-21-2018, 05:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Mighty Quinn View Post
Thanks OVT.

I understand that anything you put into your filter will eventually become a biological filter. Also, I suspect that you are correct in that the plants and substrate provide sufficient surface area to prevent any ammonia and/or nitrite buildup once the aquarium is established.

I think that I am having a difficult time constructing the question I want answered in this thread, so my apologies. It is clear that this issue is one of the many big differences between marine reef and freshwater planted aquariums.

Thanks to everyone who responded to this thread. I plan to start the aquarium with the dry start method. After flooding I will monitor ammonia and nitrite carefully, and replace mechanical filtration frequently before it becomes a biological filter. If it turns out that ammonia and/or nitrite are problematic, I'll add biological media to the filter as needed.

Cheers everyone,
TMQ
I understand that coming from a Salt Water background, you are kind of biased against building up biologics, but you kind of have to change your thinking for freshwater aquariums. I don't quite understand the concept of replacing media "before" it becomes biologic filtration. why you do not want your filter to have biological filtration? Biologics are vital to the success of the nitrogen cycle. High flow is necessary to maintain the freshness of the bacteria. In a low flow situation, the bacteria will grow old and then start to lose efficiency as it ages. The high flow of a filter will wash off the old bacteria and allow new bacteria to grow in it's place.
This is why most freshwater aquarium owners rinse most of their media rather than replacing it. Biologic media (ceramic/bioballs, etc.) preserve bacteria while allowing enough flow to knock off the dead stuff. Changing out all your media with the sole purpose of eliminating bacteria in your filter is inviting disaster. Most freshwater aquarium owners will never replace all of their media all at the same time. There is a careful balance that must be maintained. I run two filters in each tank and will only clean one at a time to make sure that I am not depleting too much bacteria at one time. I am probably overcautious. In most single filter application it is safe to rinse half of the media and replace the other half (even then there is the chance that you might have an ammonia spike while the biologics recover). Replacing all media without returning at least some of it could be disastrous. The main problem with depending on bacteria on the existing surface area in your tank is that the bacteria will age and lose efficiency since it is difficult to create enough flow to knock off the older bacteria to allow new bacteria to grow

If you want to be successful in having a freshwater aquarium, you must be able to embrace the biologics.
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Last edited by AguaScape; 12-21-2018 at 05:36 AM. Reason: edit
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-21-2018, 03:17 PM
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@AguaScape, you caught me by surprise as I had no idea that a) bacteria gets old b) loses efficiency as it ages c) older bacteria needs to be knocked off to make room for new.
Could you please point me to your sources? Thanks!

PS: that sort of kills all of my past and present filter-less tanks.
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-21-2018, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Mighty Quinn View Post
...It is clear that this issue is one of the many big differences between marine reef and freshwater planted aquariums.

With marine tanks, Nitrates = poison. In freshwater, it's plant food. Keeping bio media out of marine is purely to eliminate a poison source if I'm not mistaken. With planted tanks, you never want to see zero nitrates. That would mean your plants are starving. While you have enough beneficial bacteria in your substrate of an established FW aquarium to keep toxins like ammonia and nitrite at zero, I still prefer to use bio media as a safety net. You can live without it, but things could go south quicker if there's an issue
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 12-22-2018, 07:31 PM
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Originally Posted by OVT View Post
@AguaScape, you caught me by surprise as I had no idea that a) bacteria gets old b) loses efficiency as it ages c) older bacteria needs to be knocked off to make room for new.
Could you please point me to your sources? Thanks!

PS: that sort of kills all of my past and present filter-less tanks.
Please keep in mind that I am relatively new to planted aquariums, but I have kept fish for most my life. I (in no way) consider myself an expert. The only thing I know for certain is that there is always more to learn.

I wish I had the balls to really dive into a filterless aquarium but I guess I am biased as well since I come from a fish only background. I can't quite get myself to give up the safety net a filter provides. Maybe some day.

Perhaps I over emphasised the reduced efficiency of bacteria as it ages. Bacteria will age and die, but new bacteria will replace it as fast as it dies. Bacteria will maintain a population based upon its food source (in this case ammonia and nitrites). Any surface will suffice for this to take place, but filter media provides so much more surface area than rocks and substrate alone. Rinsing media in tank (or conditioned) water rinses off the mulm and dead bacteria and keeps enough fresh strong bacteria intact to quickly re-colonize. Vacuuming gravel will do pretty much the same thing. Removing dead bacteria and mulm and leaving the young and strong bacteria in place.

The real point I was trying to get across is that it would be counterproductive to replace media with the sole purpose of preventing bacteria from growing there. Why not take advantage of the safety net of having the extra surface area colonized by beneficial bacteria that filter media provides?
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