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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi All,

I'm interested in creating the lowest tech tank possible. Ideally, the only input would eventually be leaf litter, light, top-off water, and possibly something to circulate the water.

I got the idea from dendroboard. A recent trend has been to use a clay-based substrate coupled with leaf litter to simulate a rainforest floor. Then introduce various types of microfauna such as isopods, springtails, etc and give them months to get breeding, sustaining populations. Finally, UVB light can be added to replace mineral supplementation. I know of at least two people who set it up well enough to get away with not feeding the (thumbnail, the smallest) dart frogs at all, one by creating a refugarium, and one by just having a large enough enclosure with enough floor area.

I was wondering if this could be possible in a FW aquarium. I would want to start by just adding plants and letting that sit for a while. Then I would try to add some inverts, such as daphnia, cyclops, snails, worms, etc to try and get them established. The hope is to get some inverts that can sustain themselves on the decaying leaves alone. Then I would hope to get some higher-level inverts living such as shrimp. Finally, I would probably try to keep a single fish in there and go without feeding it fish food.

I've seen very little discussion on this board on these subjects, as opposed to dendroboard where it's everywhere. I see stuff about Walstad tanks but I want to take it to the next level.

My challenges:
1. I've never kept a planted tank before. I'd be satisfied to start small and just keep something like a shrimp alive.
2. I don't know what kind of inverts could sustain themselves on leaf litter. I know daphnia like to crash out of nowhere, but I don't know if that would happen when their population is controlled. I don't know about many other types of small inverts.
3. I don't know what type of substrate to use. Tropical soils are mostly clay, so I would lean towards that, but I only base that off of what I've learned from dendroboard. To go along with that, it may be hard to keep the water clear enough. I would hope the leafs would keep the particles down but I don't know that. Maybe clay > gravel > leaves?
4. Tank size. I'm sure it would take a sizeable tank to keep even one fish alive without fish food, but I don't know how big. That's why I want to experiment!

Anyone have anything to help me out? Or you could just call me crazy. Either one :biggrin:.
 

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I've had some similar ideas in the past. I think one thing to realize is that it will look much more messy than a viv would. If you're alright with that it isn't too hard to get a sustainable tank set up. All you need to do is have very few consumers.

So first you would want some clay based substrate, any of the popular substrates will work. Then I would add leaf litter, bloodworms, copepods, maybe some daphnia, etc. Also add some common pond snails and MTS. Add plants as well, to make it look better epiphytes like mosses and ferns that are placed on rocks or driftwood would work best.

Next would be your larger inverts like shrimp and possibly clams. I would start out with a small number of shrimp, say 1 per gallon of tank or so maybe more maybe less depending on the size of the tank. I would then wait like three months or so to let everything settle.

Finally I would add a small group of some small fish, nothing over 2 inches or so. Danios, badis, and those types of fish can work well if its a larger aquarium. CPDs and smaller fish work well if its a smaller aquarium. Do some research and you should be fine, but you can't keep as many as you would with a normal tank.

To add to diversity add a pair of Bushy nose plecos or some ottos depending on the tank size.

So yeah, its doable but not for everyone. You will have to still feed on occasion probably just to keep you happy. In the beginning you should feed some, etc. If anything you need to keep adding organic material for the lower level stuff.

Oh and a UV bulb isn't needed here ;)
-Andrew
 

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Sounds like a Diana Walstad-type Natural Planted Tank is what you're looking for. Her book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium goes pretty in depth on how to set up an NPT (and is a great read for any planted tanker, actually...)
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for your replies. I intend to read that book by Walstad. I've already done a bunch of research on Walstad tanks. I want to take it one step further and try to make it even more self-sustaining.

I'm glad to know that it can be done. Because this will mostly be an experiment anyway I don't mind if the tank isn't the prettiest thing. I'm wondering if I can try a smaller tank, say 10g and try to support one or two fish in it. The biggest challenge I think will be to get invert to live and breed without going extinct in such a small area. It may not work and I'll have to go bigger, but that's ok. Of course I'll make sure the fish is ok and feed it when I have to.

What other kinds of inverts have been living in your tanks by themselves without dying out? Aren't bloodworms some kind of flying insect larva? They wouldn't be able to sustain themselves right?
 

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One thing to think about is how to make the leaf litter available as a food source for the tank inhabitants. How much do you know about stream macroinvertebrates such as mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and others? If you or anyone you know fly fishes you would be familiar with them. Some of these are known as shredders and basically eat the leaf litter making it more available to the rest of the community.
Many stream systems rely on leaf input as an energy source compared to those that rely on photosynthesis etc.

You could always have your display tank however you wanted and have a second tank, basically a refugium with the leaf litter and its inhabitants. Water would drain into the fuge and would be returned by a small pump. With the return water there would be available food for your display inhabitants. This is the basis of most saltwater and reef aquaria.

Just somethings to think about I guess. Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I don't know much about stream invertebrates but you gave me some good terms to google for. I found a book called Tropical Stream Ecology that the nearby university library has that I can take a look at. I'm still brainstorming this... I'm thinking about a porous wall that things such as gammarus (a "shredder") could fit through but not a fish. I could fill the whole thing with leaf litter for the most organic matter possible, and this could cover the whole back of the tank, leaving the front which could be made to look nicer. The back could just be covered by tall plants.
 

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Finally, UVB light can be added to replace mineral supplementation.
Do what now?

Uuuuhhhh, I don't think so. How exactly did someone figure they would get calcium, magnesium, etc. out of UVB light? People need to slow down on the shrooms o.0 they're probably just getting cations released from decomposing plant matter/microbes, etc. or the rocks are leeching.

Simple fact: it doesn't matter what you put into a closed box...eventually it will crash unless you purposefully add input. Thermodynamics 101. Yes, it can be done, but not with 0 effort. Walstad's got it down to the point where all she does is feed her fish - but she DOES have input to her system.

Just sayin'.
 

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I have a 5G wine carboy that's survived as a closed system (except for sunlight) for over a year. 1" soil, .5" medium gravel, tons of Sag Subulata, some small crypts (Willisii, Lucens) that have been over taken by the Sag, one Crypt Wendtii Red that's almost keeping up with the Sag, Ramshorns, MTS and Pond snails and up until 3 days ago, three Red Cherry Shrimp and one tiny guppy. I had some Riccia fluitans floating but it died (I suspect) when the water temp rose too high this summer. I finally decided to take out what was left last week by adding some water so it would float up the neck of the carboy. A few days later, green water! I fixed this in another tank by doing a black out so I put a garbage bag over it for 4 days. In my previous tank some O2 diffused into the water through the surface. This tank was sealed so I'm guessing the plants gassed the RCS and my guppy. All of the RCS (including the usually clear males) were red like a cooked lobster. Almost all of the snails were crammed up in the neck. I've left the cork off for a few days and surprisingly all the snails seem to have recovered.

I suspect the guppy survived the year (barely, it seemed stunted) by eating the RCS fry. I'm hoping I'll have similar luck when I let everything settle for a while and put another couple of shrimp in. I'm not sure I'll put another fish in. Maybe something that stays smaller than a guppy as an adult, but I'm a little gun shy atm.
 

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I'd be curious as well, I guess this thread's pretty old.

It's an interesting idea, but like it was said, I don't believe it's possible without some intervention. So then, you have to decide based on your goals or interests what intervention is acceptable. That's what could be very interesting about a project like this. So many ways to approach it.

I had an idea recently about doing a cherry shrimp tank where they would be the food supply for some other inhabitants. The other fish would get fed and the cherry population would stay in check. Not sure how feasible that is, but it was just an initial thought. I don't see why it couldn't work though.
 
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