Native/Local fish/plant biotope discussion - Mackinaw River, IL - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 04:00 PM Thread Starter
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Native/Local fish/plant biotope discussion - Mackinaw River, IL

Hey folks,


So let me start out by saying this is just a scheming discussion for now....I already have my girlfriend convinced that this is what we should do, and she's on board for it with our next tank. However, it isn't going to be in the next month, but maybe a start in 2 months or so. So for right now, its just academic and in the planning stages....Really, I am looking to gain from your wisdom on planted tanks and other tank related topics so it will lessen the slope on my learning curve.


The Mackinaw River in Central Illinois is one that is close to my heart. I have spent a lot of time there in my life canoeing/kayaking, swimming, fishing, hiking, and seining. Its my river. Ok, I know its not mine, but I love it. It's fairly typical of a plains river, with lots of farmland, but it also crosses a moraine, so the geology is actually fairly interesting in some parts, and is largely sandy and gravely bottom. It has very, VERY minor claim to fame in that 2 different species of Madtoms were initially classified there (though I can't find that literature anymore...figures). So I would like a piece of it for home. Here's the scheme I am working on....and lots of questions!


Tank/Current:
I would like to do a 125 gal (or 80 gal that's 72"-ish long) tank with a river manifold for current. Research to be done yet is appropriate volume for powerheads and tubing. I would also like to do something like you see in wind tunnels to smooth out the flow of the powerheads and doesn't make it quite so point source.


Has anybody ever really ramped up the size of the pipes on a manifold to really get an actual current going rather than just swirling? Maybe more inlets than powerheads, so the water actually leaves at the end of the tank? Is there a reliable method that folks use to track the current in the tank? Seems like dyes would be distributed too quickly.


Are there good, accepted ways of hiding powerheads? Or would I be better suited with a tank that's deeper than normal and do a bulkhead for a flow that circles it and skip the manifold setup?


Filtration:
I really don't have anything in mind here, other than probably a canister of appropriate size for the tank. Is there any catch when doing cold water vs tropical temps?


Heating/Cooling:
I was planning on going without a heater at all. My house is mid/low 70's during the summer, and mid 60's during the winter. The water temp right now in the river is low 70's (I just dumped my kayak this weekend, so am fairly sure that's accurate! lol) ....obviously in the winter it gets colder. So given those parameters, would any species that are currently living in there need any additional consideration other than my existing room temperature? With the volume that I am talking about, will powerhead heat be an issue? Will I need to consider a chiller of some sort?


Lighting:
LED's that are enough to grow plants. simple, right? lol. Really, though, is there any specifics I need to think about for local plants, cold water?


Substrate:
Ok, here is where I'm getting a little unsure. Since I spend enough time out there at the river, I would like to take a combination of silty mud, sand, and gravel from the river itself. What kind of conditioning would this material need to be useful? Will it have the ability to absorb and disperse nutrients already, or will I need to do a mineralized process? Is there anything that I really need to watch out for? What kind of ratios would I need in terms of muck, sand, gravel, and rock?


Water:
Will I gain anything by taking buckets of water back with me? Or only concerns about runoff and chemicals?


Flora:
I don't know any of the specific species that exist. And most are waters edge kind of plants....this is going to take some really careful exploring in the river to find some, which is half the fun for me on this, honestly!! But it's my hope that I can find a few different kinds. Is there anything one needs to be aware of when removing and transplanting them? Anything to look for/avoid? Is there a good resource available for identification of plants?


Also, if there are some short grasses along the edge that's roots are in the water, but the leaves are in the air....are these kind of plants able to still grow submerged? Is there any way that one can tell?


Fauna:
I'm less worried about this than the plants. I managed to find a species list from a survey from a while ago. (http://ilacadofsci.com/wp-content/up...3-08-print.pdf) I plan to research some of the more common ones in hopes to learn qualities about them so that I know a little more going in. I will be seining a couple of spots to look for a variety. There is a darter that I would love to have, and some madtoms as well, but honestly, I would take anything. I plan on keeping a description and photo of the endangered species with me to make sure that they are released right away. Anything else I should consider?


General:
What are some of the downfall's and challenges from a cold water local tank? Or a tank with a current? What am I forgetting? Any other advice on making a good setup that will last and have happy fish an plants? Am I silly for wanting to do something this specialized???


I love this place, though I have only been registered for a short time, I have been enjoying reading all the threads for a while now, so thank you very much for the resource!!


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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 06:40 PM
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Silly? Quite likely, but then there has to be some level of "silly" in all of us to want to do planted tanks and fish? If we all quit when called silly we would not be here!
It sounds like a real challenge and I have not done the full deal, for sure. But one I would suggest is leaving some space for real current as well as some space for calm. Fish tend to move to what they want at the time and given a choice for them to decide relieves you of getting it exactly right. Very difficult to get it right for all species. Most rivers/creeks will have fast as well as some calm spots. In and around rocks and roots balls there is likely to be a different group of fish than the full time current area. Also the substrate will be different as nature changes her mind and rearranges things often.
For plant selection, I would be more prone to taking a wide variety of plants and just working with each to see what works out. Failing is my favorite way of learning, perhaps? Rather than reading tons of info which may not be fit exactly anyway, I tend to try it and then I get a far more reliable answer for my tank.
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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 09:54 PM
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Overall I like what your planning. Best thing is that when your done you have something that is unique. I do see some possible considerations that I'll mention.

You may not need a lot of current or flow. Just about every river has some quiet pools and such. If you do need flow you could drill the tank and install bulkheades at each end and run a closed loop, taking from one end and returning to the other. Another alternative is to use something like a couple of EcoTech Marine VorTechs at one end. Of course any similar pump will do. If you place them low you might be able to pile up some rocks around them.

I doubt you would need a chiller. I'd only add one if there is no other way to keep temps down.

On any rocks or substrata you collect, be very careful. Check out what it's made of and the general quality of the local water. I would be inclined to not use mud from the river itself. You don't know what has settled out from it over the years. You could use some clean local dirt and run that through the usual process for making mineralized mud.

I think I'd just use tap water, but bring back a water sample and test that. You'll have a base for your parameters.

With plants you could collect locally and give them a try. I doubt anyone else will have them. You may find some of the usual aquarium plants are somewhat native to your area, and you could use those. You might find some northern plants need a dormant period in winter. If you really need something to fill in, I don't think it's "a sin" to use regular aquarium plants.

One minor downside to this is that the fish you will collect are not going to compare in coloration to many of the usual aquarium fish. This can make the livestock seem kind of drab. You may need to do a lot of explaining of the system and what your trying to do to your visitors.
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post #4 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 02:08 AM Thread Starter
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Hey Rich, good info! Making some slack water areas is a good call. And you are right, trying, rather than overthinking the plants is a good learning strategy. I tend to do the latter more than the former.

Dave, great thoughts! Good to hear that a chiller might not be needed. The current thing is again probably one of my overthinking issues too. But upon further thought (ha) the majority of the river is pools separated by small riffles. So it's likely less current than I was initally thinking.

I totally hadn't thought of gunk settling into the mud. There is no doubt some crop runoff in there. So as far as local soil goes....it's really fertile here. Can I just use from my backyard? Regarding the Rock and sand and what it's made of....is that to ensure I won't effect the target pH and hardness?

Fantastic idea about at least testing the creek water!! Mind blown. What a great way to get target values for the tank.

For plants, too, if I strike out on the river itself, a friend of mine has a beautiful clear spring fed lake, and I saw some really nice looking plants in there tonight. I think my brain would like that better than non native plants.

You are quite right that the fish don't compare to tropicals. But all my friends know I'm a river nerd. Lol. I think striving for good plants and a nice scape will make it a really neat tank.

Thanks for the feedback! Just what I was looking for! You have given me more research fodder.

What about driftwood? Are there more risks than usual from a small river?
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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 08:20 PM
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What about driftwood? Are there more risks than usual from a small river?

This is one that I know some about being a former river nerd! I say not at all any worse and possibly better than some choices. If you collect from the water itself, it does have some things going for it. It is being washed and rinsed often, this will be diluting much of the stuff we might worry about like pesticides, oils, etc. Then when it does come out during dry times, it is sun bleached which is a good way to clean up lots of things.
But you are correct to watch out for what we might not spot. Like washing my plate before eating, it may not be totally needed and we can often get by without doing anything. But washing and sterilizing dishes or driftwood can be very easy so I do it in both cases.
There is often a bit of hysterical thinking involved when I suggest doing a bleach soak for wood. Some suggest there is a mystery substance in bleach that soaks into wood and doesn't dry out. So far I' ve never got anybody to name this "residue" they speak of. A bit of reading tells me bleach is made of mostly water, about 6% chlorine, and a bit of salt to help keep the chlorine from blowing away. since chlorine does turn to gas and blow away, I don't see the mystery ingredient that some worry about. I suggest doing a bleach soak to kill/remove most any of the things we worry about on the wood. Chlorine is already in most tap water and we deal with it every water change. Bleaching may make the wood lose it's normal color but that returns soon after we start using it.
Rivers without wood, look a little strange to this river rat!
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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 08:52 PM Thread Starter
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Ah right on, Rich! I was wondering about coloring from a bleach treatment, glad you covered that, too! I like your analogies, too. haha.

I actually saw some great pieces that had come to rest on sand/gravel bars the last trip out. I'll have to get those sooner, rather than later so higher volume post rain storm doesn't wash them away, and then can leave them in the sun and the rain on my deck for the next few months before I'll need to use them.

Thanks for that info, Rich, great stuff!! River rats unite!


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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 10:03 PM
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Originally Posted by scolba View Post
...Good to hear that a chiller might not be needed...
...You are quite right that the fish don't compare to tropicals...
Some of the fish or invertebrates you collect may come from spring fed sources, which are usually much cooler than the average river, stream or lake, so these species may prefer a chiller, but many will do fine in the lower seventies. I've found it's mostly native aquatic salamanders that need chilled water, but they are very interesting.

As for native fish generally being more dull than tropical fish, I beg to differ! Just because most of the exotic fish we keep in aquariums are colorful doesn't mean that is the norm where they come from. Also, many of the varieties of colorful fish sold are the results of many generations of selective breeding and hybridization, and are far removed, colorwise, from their natural forms. For instance, discus and angelfish in their natural coloration, while interesting in their shape, patterns and relatively small blotches of color, don't have anything more vibrant than many of our native sunfish. If someone were to breed sunfish for color, I'm sure they would gain a following of aquarium hobbyists, especially since their behavior is similar to cichlids, which have a very large fan base. And few fish can compare to the brook silverside (one of my favorite native fish) and its striking neon green stripe along the translucent body. Two species of killifish native to your area are noteworthy aquarium fishes, the black spotted topminnow and the starhead topminnow. I have kept the Blackbanded topminnow (almost identical to the black spotted topminnow), and can tell you that they do very well in an aquarium, taking standard flake food readily and even spawning without special preparation. And you've already mentioned the madtoms, which do very well, also. And few naturally colored freshwater fish can rival the displays of some of our native darters.

I recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Fishes, Whales and Dolphins for identification and range/habitat information, even though you will obviously not be using a large part of the book (marine species, etc.). You may be surprised by what you find. Native fish are often overlooked and unappreciated in their own habitat. For instance, Chandra ranga, the little "Glass fish" that sells in the U.S. for $2.00+ each, is used by the thousands in its native lands as fertilizer! Incidentally, most of the information on keeping our native fish in aquariums comes from European publications, probably because, to them, they are "exotic". Also, a good source of information can be found on the NANFA (North American Native Fish Association) website.

So happy hunting, and let us know what you find.

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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-14-2016, 04:10 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Olskule! You are quite right about the darters (and the sunfish for sure!)! I am secretly hoping I'll be able to snag and orange throat, greenside, or banded darter...but I really don't know how realistic my chances are to snag them...they look like they could be quite stunning. Honestly though, I think I read something online that makes me feel like darters are a challenge but I might just be making that up. The blacknose dace looks like a neat fish to me too...but I'm trying not to get my hopes up for any one species in case I strike out.

I will definitely check out the book and NANFA (Actually found a darter article there in a new tab while formulating this response! ) Thanks!


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Last edited by scolba; 07-14-2016 at 04:28 PM. Reason: added dace
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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-14-2016, 04:40 PM
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You may be right in thinking that some darters may be a challenge (and I'm assuming you mean to keep). I had one many years ago (I think it was a Blackbanded darter, if memory serves me) that seemed to be doing well, even very willingly taking flake food that made its way to the bottom of the tank. Then one day he just suddenly raced to the surface, splashed it and floated back down to the bottom, dead. I got the impression that he had a seizure or stroke of some kind. I had been concerned that my tank's water was too warm for him, since where I lived at the time got fairly warm late in the day, and the stream I collected him from was rather cool, so that might have been a factor.

Other darters may require live foods, since they (sand darters, at least) bury themselves in sand with only their eyes showing, so I assume that they are hiding from prey and ambush it. Of course, it could just be to hide from predators, and they, like my Blackbanded darter, just dart out to catch any tidbit that drifts by that might happen to be edible. From what I observed, they go after moving food that drifts by in the current but don't go looking for food on the bottom, like catfish do. This would make sense, since they usually come from habitats that have a flowing current.


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post #10 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-14-2016, 05:08 PM
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I think to get the best current going, one can place a perspex divider down the middle, length wise, ending a few inches from each side.
Now place your pumps to work in opposite directions on either side of the divider. Water will then flow in a circle around this invisible island.

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post #11 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-15-2016, 01:16 AM
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I have a six-foot long aquarium that is only 45 gallons, and I've always thought it would make an excellent stream tank, with a decent current from end to end.
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post #12 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-15-2016, 10:47 AM
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That is such a wonderful idea you've got there.

To create a nice river current, you could build your own sump filtration. Make your return line and make 2 or 3 horizontal spray bars out of 1/2" pvc. Place them going down one of the sides of the aquarium.

Place the overflow box on the opposite side of the tank. Use an internal overflow panel with added holes drilled toward the bottom and along the top to avoid a circular water flow. This should create a more linear current creating an upstream and down stream.

As for the substrate, I would slope it from the top of the biotope (where the spray bar is) down to the bottom (overflow box) to create a basin that is found towards the end of waterways. This will create a nice area for fish that like the current and a place down steam for fish that like it a bit slower.

I would plant towards the shallower parts of the scape and use larger rock and driftwood at the basin.

Hope this gives you some ideas.

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post #13 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-15-2016, 02:08 PM Thread Starter
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Ah, thanks for the correct terms, Nordic! That's sort of what I was referring to when I said bulkhead. I realize now that is the wrong term! I think I have actually talked myself out of that idea for simplicity and space sake. If I was doing a trout tank, then that would be a different story.

Olskule!! That's a crazy (and awesome!) sounding tank! What is is 72x12x12??! That's so neat! It would definitely work for this type of approach too, as most of these fish seem to need horizontal room more than vertical.

Jonathan, thanks for the thoughts! I agree with the idea of the basin on one side, but I'm curious why you recommend the plantings on the shallower side? Seems like the current would be higher there, and wouldn't be as conducive to plant health there? I think I have ruled out a sump in its purest form, but your suggestion gave me another idea. I really like the DIY horizontal spray bars....and if I were to mimic that for an intake on the other side, and possibly drill the tank to pass the tubing through, I could use an external pump for the current, and then get to avoid powerheads in the tank. For some reason that really bugs me. lol


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post #14 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-15-2016, 05:01 PM
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...Olskule!! That's a crazy (and awesome!) sounding tank! What is is 72x12x12??! That's so neat! It would definitely work for this type of approach too, as most of these fish seem to need horizontal room more than vertical...
Yes, about those dimensions. It was made from the leftover scraps of glass from making 250 gallon aquariums. The glass is about 5/8" thick and it is very solid and heavy. I thought about putting it beneath the 125 I just got, on the knockdown stand I already had that I used for the 45 (which was made for a 72"x19" footprint tank), but I decided that, since it's going in the main room of the house, I want a nicer looking stand more than I want another aquarium setup. (I'm rebuilding the homemade stand that came with the 125, and it should turn out looking like a real piece of furniture.)
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post #15 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-15-2016, 05:18 PM
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Jonathan, thanks for the thoughts! I agree with the idea of the basin on one side, but I'm curious why you recommend the plantings on the shallower side? Seems like the current would be higher there, and wouldn't be as conducive to plant health there? I think I have ruled out a sump in its purest form, but your suggestion gave me another idea. I really like the DIY horizontal spray bars....and if I were to mimic that for an intake on the other side, and possibly drill the tank to pass the tubing through, I could use an external pump for the current, and then get to avoid powerheads in the tank. For some reason that really bugs me. lol
Most plants can use the higher current for better utilization of CO2 and nutrients. I would use shorter, grass like plants if I could find some in the region you are looking to recreate.

If you are going to use spray bars for the out-take line, you will want ample holes at least twice the size of return spray bar to not restrict water being pumped faster than can drain.
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