Evidence for beneficial bacteria - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-24-2019, 02:21 AM Thread Starter
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Evidence for beneficial bacteria

Hi, is there any evidence that things like bio balls house more beneficial bacteria than say, the substrate? Or that the filter contains more BB than substrate? I hear that a lot but have never seen any proof. Thanks!
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post #2 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-24-2019, 06:27 AM
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Absolutely false unless your talking a sump full of bio balls.
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post #3 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-24-2019, 12:27 PM
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Bio-Balls were created for the sole purpose of trickle or drip systems (although I personally think nylon pot scrubbies are even more efficient and cost very little). The water dripping over the plastic balls create a highly oxygenated environment.
The fact that bio-balls ended up being used in canisters and sumps is just crazy because they have significantly less surface area (for BB colonization) than nearly any other bio-media.
While on the subject I discounted over priced hyped commercial bio-medias years ago after realizing that sponge material was every bit as good or better. Not only is coarse sponge a great mechanical media, but finer sponge (e.g. bio-sponge) is a great platform for BB).
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I have read studies that concluded that there was more beneficial bacteria in typical substrates than in filters. I think the reason is two (or more) fold. 1) There is significantly more surface area in the substrate than the 'bio-media' in nearly all filters; 2) the substrate is a more stable environment (filters are somewhat routinely torn down and 'cleaned') and even using tank water, the BB colony is disrupted and much is flushed away.
But there continues to be a lot of debate in the hobby concerning BB - filter vs. substrate and we just have to take it all with a grain of salt. The reality is that there is BB on every stationary surface in the established aquarium. If that was not the case, the system would crash anytime the BB was disturbed in the filter!...and as we all know filters can be serviced with no disturbance to the livestock. Having said that, in a new barely cycled setup, it may be a different story.
Then too, I breed and grow out hundreds of swordtails. I have some bare bottom grow out tanks with nothing more than a sponge filter. I can routinely aggressively clean the sponges with no negative impact on the fish...believe it or not.
Truth be told, in an established system, regardless of calamity, BB are prolific enough to repopulate quickly relative to the available food source - and there is a key. The colony population will rise and fall relative to the available food and O2. I chuckle when I see some YouTubers speak of increasing bio-media capacity for better bio filtration. An acre of real estate doesn't support more BB unless there is more ammonia and nitrite. Add to the mix fast growing plants that use ammonia as their N2 source and more bio-media becomes even more pointless.
Okay, sorry for rambling on here. :-)

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post #4 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-24-2019, 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by billybobjoel View Post
Hi, is there any evidence that things like bio balls house more beneficial bacteria than say, the substrate? Or that the filter contains more BB than substrate? I hear that a lot but have never seen any proof. Thanks!

Bacteria will grow on any surface in the aquarium. Gravel, glass, rocks, wood, plants, the fish themselves. Anything. The more surface area the more bacteria. The whole point of media in a filter is that its designed to have more surface area then other objects in the aquarium. More surface area equals more bacteria. Additionally there is the issue of dead bacteria or inefficient older bacteria. The life cycle of bacteria is such that young bacteria eat more waste then older bacteria. So ideally you want young bacteria everywhere. This is impossible but that's the idea. As bacteria get old and die they are taken over by younger bacteria colonies.

This process is aided by disturbing (shaking off) the older bacteria. We do this by rinsing our filter media in tank water. This cleans up the surfaces a bit and allows new bacteria to move in. This is why moving bed filters are so efficient, they do this all the time by themselves.

Your substrate on the other hand pretty much stays put. If you do deep gravel vacs then you are definitely moving it around enough to shake off some of the older bacteria, but if you have a heavily planted tank this will be difficult to do if not impossible. Therefore the bacteria on static undisturbed surfaces will never be as efficient as newer bacteria (presumably living in your filter media).

But is there more biological filtering in the substrate then filter? Well that depends on the substrate and the filter media. It is however not hard to use filter media with a LOT of surface area, things like ceramic rings/balls, lava rock, sponges, even plastic pot scrubbers end up having a staggering amount of surface area especially when compared to relatively round solid surfaces that most of our gravel/sand has.

All of this is just a way of saying that filter media if sized appropriately to the bioload should be doing most of your biologically filtering of a typical aquarium. You can definitely have exceptions, but /shrug such is life.
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post #5 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-24-2019, 12:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AbbeysDad View Post
Bio-Balls were created for the sole purpose of trickle or drip systems (although I personally think nylon pot scrubbies are even more efficient and cost very little). The water dripping over the plastic balls create a highly oxygenated environment.
The fact that bio-balls ended up being used in canisters and sumps is just crazy because they have significantly less surface area (for BB colonization) than nearly any other bio-media.
While on the subject I discounted over priced hyped commercial bio-medias years ago after realizing that sponge material was every bit as good or better. Not only is coarse sponge a great mechanical media, but finer sponge (e.g. bio-sponge) is a great platform for BB).
------
I have read studies that concluded that there was more beneficial bacteria in typical substrates than in filters. I think the reason is two (or more) fold. 1) There is significantly more surface area in the substrate than the 'bio-media' in nearly all filters; 2) the substrate is a more stable environment (filters are somewhat routinely torn down and 'cleaned') and even using tank water, the BB colony is disrupted and much is flushed away.
But there continues to be a lot of debate in the hobby concerning BB - filter vs. substrate and we just have to take it all with a grain of salt. The reality is that there is BB on every stationary surface in the established aquarium. If that was not the case, the system would crash anytime the BB was disturbed in the filter!...and as we all know filters can be serviced with no disturbance to the livestock. Having said that, in a new barely cycled setup, it may be a different story.
Then too, I breed and grow out hundreds of swordtails. I have some bare bottom grow out tanks with nothing more than a sponge filter. I can routinely aggressively clean the sponges with no negative impact on the fish...believe it or not.
Truth be told, in an established system, regardless of calamity, BB are prolific enough to repopulate quickly relative to the available food source - and there is a key. The colony population will rise and fall relative to the available food and O2. I chuckle when I see some YouTubers speak of increasing bio-media capacity for better bio filtration. An acre of real estate doesn't support more BB unless there is more ammonia and nitrite. Add to the mix fast growing plants that use ammonia as their N2 source and more bio-media becomes even more pointless.
Okay, sorry for rambling on here. :-)

Rambling, no. Just a lot of experience speaking. I did chuckle a bit thinking back to the Matrix without Seachem experiment where I ran a simple sponge filter to insanely high levels of BB.
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post #6 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-24-2019, 01:33 PM
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Filters have high water turnover and are exposed to constant nitrogen sources from the water column. Compared to a decently deep substrate layer that would not seem to have much water flow throughout it, i have a hard time seeing how it could possibly compete with a filter due to this


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post #7 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 12:27 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for sharing @AbbeysDad, that was super insightful and helpful! That is kind of what I suspected with the bio filters and interesting bit about the bacteria, if I remember correctly from a course way back in college, in the right conditions they are supposed to double every few hours.

@minorhero, that makes sense but Im trying to better understand in the average case where someone has a HOB and say gravel substrate, if we're talking surface area, the filter pad is negligible to the amount of area in the substrate. So whether you rinse and kill all of it or not should not matter.

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Filters have high water turnover and are exposed to constant nitrogen sources from the water column. Compared to a decently deep substrate layer that would not seem to have much water flow throughout it, i have a hard time seeing how it could possibly compete with a filter due to this

Depends on what type of waste you're talking about, fish excrete urine and poop which both have nitrogen. The filter turns over urine in water but it should be the same on the surface of the substrate if there is good flow across in the tank. Fish poop however generally gets into the substrate which Im assuming we have separate bacteria for that. Actually, are there studies done on the different types of bacteria (urine vs poop) when we're talking about BBs and what their conversion rates are? Also, the conversion should depend on the amount of urine and poop generated, but does anyone know what volume of nitrogen is from poop as opposed to urine?
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post #8 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 01:52 AM
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that makes sense but Im trying to better understand in the average case where someone has a HOB and say gravel substrate, if we're talking surface area, the filter pad is negligible to the amount of area in the substrate. So whether you rinse and kill all of it or not should not matter.
Depends again on what is in the (in your example) hob. Seachem matrix advertises that 1 liter of their product is equal to 170 square feet of surface area.

https://www.amazon.com/Seachem-Matri...d437af26e540c6

Most gravels are not going to have as much surface area if they are non porus. If your gravel is crushed lava rock you may be in a different category. But if your substrate is never disturbed or only partially disturbed then it will not have the most efficient bacteria etc etc.

If you never wash your filter media but do a great job with the gravel vac then again you may be in a reversal situation.

Lots of variables make it hard to give a definitive answer. You could run tests easily enough. Use a cycled tank and run a filter empty and time how long it takes to remove a set amount of ammonia from the water then again with cycled filter media in place. Clearly don't have fish in there. But you could satisfy your curiosity pretty easily. Doesn't even have to be a real aquarium just a bucket with a spare hob will work.


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post #9 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 03:26 AM
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Filters have high water turnover and are exposed to constant nitrogen sources from the water column. Compared to a decently deep substrate layer that would not seem to have much water flow throughout it, i have a hard time seeing how it could possibly compete with a filter due to this
The water moves through most filters so fast that there’s very little dwell time between bacteria and water so they are actually less effective at converting waste than substrate when properly set up where water slowly moves through media.
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post #10 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 11:30 AM
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The water moves through most filters so fast that thereís very little dwell time between bacteria and water so they are actually less effective at converting waste than substrate when properly set up where water slowly moves through media.
That's an interesting point actually. People always complain about the slower turnover rates of Eheim filters compared to other manufacturers. Eheim always touts superior biological filtration. I'm actually a believer of this. It's not necessarily about turnover.
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post #11 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 01:15 PM
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That's one of the reasons I prefer to use Eheim canisters, @Asteroid. Especially on some of my shrimp tanks. I find they're more effective than higher tech filters that move water at faster rates.

That's been a trend with many Asian aquarists the past couple decades - large filters, lots of media, slower flow (I mean, it's not SLOW - just slower than, say, a Fluval beast running at full speed.)

For some reason, many American aquarists (especially newcomers) focus on moving as much water through their filter as possible in the blink of an eye. Have found in the past couple years that even people on the forum are surprised when I discuss my filtration habits with planted tanks.

...

I'm also a fan of pot scrubbers. Have some that have been going strong in a sump since probably 2005. Best $5 ever spent on filter media.

Like @DaveKS suggests, water flows through most substrate beds relatively well. Not at a fast rate all the time but it definitely flows at a decent rate in most well-planned tanks. Enough that it provides for lots of filtration.


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post #12 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 01:42 PM
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I agree @somewhatshocked i think the very fast flow rates are attributable to the old 10x turnover and thinking they need fast flow to move larger waste to the filter. Planted tanks are somewhat different.

I know I have forgotten to plug my canister back in several times after a water change for several days and the bacteria died (smell) and the tank did not lose it's cycle. In most typical planted tanks with a standard size canister/hob I always felt the majority of the filtration was in the tank.


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post #13 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 01:51 PM
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Seems, to me, that most posters agree that the substrate can do it all and I agree with all of the reasons. I went through a long evaluation of these aspects, some years ago, and came to the conclusion that removing the bio-media from my filter was the right thing to do. I have been running with only mechanical filtration for years in my highly planted and very-high bioload tank. In fact, most of us that were around before the 'discovery' of the nitrogen cycle, ran our filters with no significant BB in it even when there were no plants in our tanks and the fish were fine.

Plants suck-up a lot of the N waste and the BB in the substrate and surfaces adapt, as necessary to the remainder. I believe (based upon the scant evidence I could find) that the BB positioning in the substrate and surfaces are not as efficient as BB in a filter (assuming optimum water flow through the filter) and that this slower conversion allows the plants more and earlier access to the more preferred (pre-nitrate) N stream.

I'm curious as to how many of the above posters run without bio-media in their filters.
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post #14 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 03:39 PM
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I went through a long evaluation of these aspects, some years ago, and came to the conclusion that removing the bio-media from my filter was the right thing to do. I have been running with only mechanical filtration for years in my highly planted and very-high bioload tank.
+1

Plants can filter out and detoxify water better than other filters. They absorb dissolved fish waste and other possibly toxic elements.


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post #15 of 40 (permalink) Old 08-25-2019, 04:18 PM
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I'm curious as to how many of the above posters run without bio-media in their filters.

As I mentioned in my previous post, with some exception*, I have only sponge material in all my filters. Sponge is not only a great mechanical filter, but finer bio-sponge is an excellent platform for beneficial bacteria. So bio-sponge IS my bio-media.... And I can aggressively clean these, even weekly, with no negative affect on tank life - EVEN in bare bottom grow out tanks.
I'm experimenting with Dr. Kevin Novak's phD anoxic biocenosis baskets.
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The "trouble" with many commercial bio-medias is they claim irregular surfaces or micro pores to provide [even] more surface area, but these all too quickly become clogged with detritus. Many manufacturers recommend replacing half the media every few months while most hobbyists ignore this thinking the media is good forever.
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The notion that fish urine is different than fish poop is a bit incorrect as like plant waste, it is all organic nitrogenous waste. In addition to nitrosomonas and nitrospira (once that to be nitrobacter) beneficial bacteria, there is also faculative bacteria that decomposes organic waste.
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Although it is true that the aquarium filter is a great place for BB as food is constantly delivered, it is also true (as posted) that fast flow rates through the filter do impede BB's ability to process ammonia and nitrites.
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When comparing the surface area of filter media to the substrate, whether gravel or sand, the substrate wins hands down. Although the aerobic regions in the substrate may only be an inch or two deep, the surface area is still many times greater than the bio-media in even large filters.



But again, I speak of established tanks. With new tanks, it can take up to 6 months to reach stability.


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