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"Clean" vs "Natural" System


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#1
Wizzy

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Read the bolded parts if you don't want to read entire post.

I am currently in the planning phase of my proposed 200+ gallon mixed reef.

I think I want a "clean" system meaning dry rock, dry sand, and no HH's. (I would quarantine everything to be sure the system had no unplanned additions such as bristleworms).

I currently have 2 "natural" tanks meaning live sand, rock, and HH's but I don't like seeing bristleworms, amphipods, etc crawling around and also don't like being surprised by something being in the tank that I didn't intentionally put there.

What are the PRO's and CON's of these two types of systems?

Would a large reef tank be sustainable if it didn't have these natural creatures to eat detritus, clean sand, etc?

I would have a normal CUC consisting of snails, etc so wouldn't these take the place of HH's?

How would I seed my tank with coralline algae?

System Info-

I plan on having a large refugium (at least 30+ gallons) in my sump with various macroalgaes.

Would I want to put copepods in this section?

What are the benefits of these creatures?

Would they be able to make into the main DT (up return pump)?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

#2
AustinV90

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Well I started with some live rock and when I upgraded I got dry rock and cycled it. As long as you add in a few QT pieces of live rock you will get coraline growth. Me personally like the random little hitchhikers you get. Now I have had some bad stuff which I quickly got rid of when I QT my rock. Copepods will make it through your return pump and into DT. Only a few will get killed.

#3
Bishop

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HH include crabs, stars, urchin, snails, limpets, coral and any other animal that came with something like rock or coral added to the tank.

If you really do not want any of this stuff then just dip your new rocks in freshwater to remove them. However, if just a couple pods ever make it into your tank, they will great a population.

#4
MaxiMiniNem

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what's HH?

hitch hiker's?

#5
Wizzy

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Well I started with some live rock and when I upgraded I got dry rock and cycled it. As long as you add in a few QT pieces of live rock you will get coraline growth. Me personally like the random little hitchhikers you get. Now I have had some bad stuff which I quickly got rid of when I QT my rock. Copepods will make it through your return pump and into DT. Only a few will get killed.


I like the random HH but I'd rather keep my system contained/controlled. Thanks for the tip on the Copepods.

HH include crabs, stars, urchin, snails, limpets, coral and any other animal that came with something like rock or coral added to the tank.

If you really do not want any of this stuff then just dip your new rocks in freshwater to remove them. However, if just a couple pods ever make it into your tank, they will great a population.


I will be starting with dry everything so I won't have to worry about anything at first.


what's HH?

hitch hiker's?


Yes, HH = Hitch Hikers


So, I just want to clarify my question again.

I want to know whether I am losing any benefits by not having the random HH in my tank?

Can't a chosen CUC of snails, crabs, etc replace the need for HH?

I want to make sure I don't create such a sterile environment that my tank won't prosper.

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

#6
Chris George

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I went the "clean" route with my tank, other than I did use some CaribSea "live" sand in a bag. I used 100% dry rock and have not added even one piece of live rock. I used MicroBacter7 to jump start bacterial growth. Everything has been great! However, I have very minimal coralline growth. The only coralline in my tank came from a tiny branch frag that some zoanthids came on and some snail shells that are nicely encrusted.

And you're not going to avoid amphipods or copepods in your display. They come in on frags. Unless you perform a very long freshwater dip you're going to have pods. My tank has thousands that I never purposefully added. I'd say only a few came on frags, but they populate quick with no predators to take them out. With the right fish you can keep populations down.

I don't think your tank will be any healthier in the long run going "clean" vs. "natural." It just takes longer. I've never had a hitchhiker that I couldn't live without.

Edited by Chris George, 11 February 2012 - 10:42 PM.


#7
Nano sapiens

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Most publications give the impression that one has to have lots of the 'little critters' to have a stable, functioning system. If you are trying to create as a natural a system as one can in a glass box, then many of them are welcome additions.

A healthy, stable system with corals can function without amphipods, bistleworms and the like. Even a CUC is not a necessity if food inputs are minimal, water is changed regularly and the aquarist performs some of the functions like cleaning the glass, removal for excess algae, vacuuming the LS, etc.

BTW - For unexplained reasons, my tank has been completely amphipod and bristlworm free for the last year. Very little effect on the tank and no effect on the corals other than they aren't being irritated or munched on :)

Edited by Nano sapiens, 11 February 2012 - 10:54 PM.


#8
Chris George

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Most publications give the impression that one has to have lots of the 'little critters' to have a stable, functioning system. If you are trying to create as a natural a system as one can in a glass box, then many of them are welcome additions.


I feel like this recommendation was during the era where it was heavily recommended reef tanks have a living sand bed. Considering the success of bare bottom and very shallow sand beds (for aesthetics only), I'm not sure how many critters are actually beneficial anymore.

#9
DaJMasta

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The 'clean' route gives you a much smaller chance of bad critters initially and a much more drawn out maturation time. That said, after the addition of larger frags and colonies and enough grow out time, there is very little difference between the two.

The more sources you have enter your tank, the more biodiversity regardless of whether its good or bad, and it's damn near impossible to keep all of the nasties out. Amphipods and other small creatures can and do come in on even two polyp frags of zoas, chaeto for a fuge, in the bag with a fish, etc. - they WILL be in your tank eventually. On the same token, any frag with coralline or other algae on it will propagate it around the tank with time.

There is some risk either way that the critters that end up in there first will skew the natural balance of the mini ecosystem that is a reef tank, but I don't think either is notably more risky. I prefer going the 'natural' route because the maturation time is quicker (more initial diversity, larger HH organisms, etc), but I think a hybrid of 10-50% live rock with the rest dry and 'clean' gives you a good amount of biodiversity and some established HH creatures while keeping the price reasonable and the risk for bad HHs down somewhat.

The real key to keeping the bad creatures out is to check the rock initially, monitor the tank during the early stages and be prepared to remove things, and to keep prized corals and animals out initially - a lot of the worst parasites have a specific enough diet that even if they come in as HH on your live rock, if you wait long enough they will die out before you add your livestock.

One final thought: while biodiversity is generally good for a tank and you get more with the 'natural' route, the competition in such a closed system will naturally reduce that biodiversity somewhat, so after the tank is matured, one with more biodiversity initially may have very little difference to a 'clean' start counterpart.

#10
Wizzy

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Wow! Thanks for all the detailed responses everyone :D

So, I am planning on going the "Clean" route due to aesthetics and will introduce coralline.

Are there any benefits/problems with having copepods?

I want a mandarin so am considering putting pods in my tank when I get it set up.

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

#11
Veng

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I don't think I've ever heard of any problems from copepods. If you're going to have a mandarin (I really want one, but don't have a tank big enough atm), you will want pods. Amazingly, you're tank would actually large enough to support a copepod population that's large enough to handle a mandarin or two.

#12
Pandion

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I love the pods in my tank! They are little algea munching machines. This was something I noticed post cycle. As the algea in my tank increases, so did my pods. Then one day I noticed that I had less pods and vitrually NO algea on ANY of my glass. I was impressed with these little critters cleaning skills. Then I put my clowns in and they ate them all.... <_< But on the bright side it was free live food!

#13
not_so_nano

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Dry rock is a lot cheaper of course, thats always a benefit ! Also, in a 200g system you are going to be surprised at how little you can actually see on the rockwork compaired to a nano :D

#14
Amphiprion1

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Well, "clean" systems are just that--clean (or *cleaner*). While probably more visually appealing for most, they just seem incomplete to me. I guess it all depends upon one's goals. Mine is to make a more complete, fully functional ecosystem. This doesn't always result in the typical TOTM-style tank, which is, IMHO, far from a completely functional ecosystem. They rely too much on care of the aquarist to maintain the health of the animals. This is where, IME, the advantage of natural systems shines--they are, quite simply, more biologically stable. Depending upon the system and its inhabitants, this biological stability far outpaces a typical "clean" system.

My previous 40g system and my current setup (as well as my first reef setup) are a prime example of this in action. My 40g was started almost entirely clean, with a single piece of live rock in the entire system. Corals were always dipped, inspected, etc. I also had dosing equipment, temperature controllers, etc., as well as a very oversized skimmer. The slightest mistake on this system would tilt it in the wrong direction--not changing water often enough, not cleaning the skimmer often enough or carefully enough, not changing filter sock, etc. I could practically sneeze at it and something would go wrong. It looked great and corals looked decent. That was until I couldn't keep up with the constant maintenance required to run it, then it went downhill entirely. That turned around partially when I made a refugium for it and added an algal scrubber. Maintenance was very slightly less, mostly requiring the skimmer to be cleaned and scrubber to be scraped. Then the power went out and killed the scrubber. The tank went reeling, building up NO3 very rapidly and practically wiped out everything. This tank was nowhere close to as stable as my first reef system of 75g ("natural," minus skimmer), which was rock solid. It even survived power outages for a week or more during during several hurricanes. My current little system requires little maintenance outside of heavy feeding and occasional carbon usage. It has survived power outages, cold temps, etc., as well without any issues.

Anyway, this has been my experience with different system types, as well as what I've observed elsewhere, such as LFS displays. I'll stick to simplicity and biological stability any day, FWIW.

#15
Wizzy

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I don't think I've ever heard of any problems from copepods. If you're going to have a mandarin (I really want one, but don't have a tank big enough atm), you will want pods. Amazingly, you're tank would actually large enough to support a copepod population that's large enough to handle a mandarin or two.


I'm hoping to have a pair of mandarins :D


I love the pods in my tank! They are little algea munching machines. This was something I noticed post cycle. As the algea in my tank increases, so did my pods. Then one day I noticed that I had less pods and vitrually NO algea on ANY of my glass. I was impressed with these little critters cleaning skills. Then I put my clowns in and they ate them all.... <_< But on the bright side it was free live food!


Agreed, I think I'll be encouraging the reproduction of copepods in my reef :happy:


Dry rock is a lot cheaper of course, thats always a benefit ! Also, in a 200g system you are going to be surprised at how little you can actually see on the rockwork compaired to a nano :D


I think the tank will be a peninsula so I'm not sure how the rock-work is going to look.


Well, "clean" systems are just that--clean (or *cleaner*). While probably more visually appealing for most, they just seem incomplete to me. I guess it all depends upon one's goals. Mine is to make a more complete, fully functional ecosystem. This doesn't always result in the typical TOTM-style tank, which is, IMHO, far from a completely functional ecosystem. They rely too much on care of the aquarist to maintain the health of the animals. This is where, IME, the advantage of natural systems shines--they are, quite simply, more biologically stable. Depending upon the system and its inhabitants, this biological stability far outpaces a typical "clean" system.

My previous 40g system and my current setup (as well as my first reef setup) are a prime example of this in action. My 40g was started almost entirely clean, with a single piece of live rock in the entire system. Corals were always dipped, inspected, etc. I also had dosing equipment, temperature controllers, etc., as well as a very oversized skimmer. The slightest mistake on this system would tilt it in the wrong direction--not changing water often enough, not cleaning the skimmer often enough or carefully enough, not changing filter sock, etc. I could practically sneeze at it and something would go wrong. It looked great and corals looked decent. That was until I couldn't keep up with the constant maintenance required to run it, then it went downhill entirely. That turned around partially when I made a refugium for it and added an algal scrubber. Maintenance was very slightly less, mostly requiring the skimmer to be cleaned and scrubber to be scraped. Then the power went out and killed the scrubber. The tank went reeling, building up NO3 very rapidly and practically wiped out everything. This tank was nowhere close to as stable as my first reef system of 75g ("natural," minus skimmer), which was rock solid. It even survived power outages for a week or more during during several hurricanes. My current little system requires little maintenance outside of heavy feeding and occasional carbon usage. It has survived power outages, cold temps, etc., as well without any issues.

Anyway, this has been my experience with different system types, as well as what I've observed elsewhere, such as LFS displays. I'll stick to simplicity and biological stability any day, FWIW.


Thanks for the well written and descriptive post.

I feel that the best option, for both aesthetics as well as functionality, will be to add copepods and use a chosen CUC to scavenge, sift the sand, etc.

If I feel the need I will introduce various other HH to the system.

So, on that note, does anyone have any suggestions as to what HH are good for a tank?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

#16
Amphiprion1

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I'm hoping to have a pair of mandarins :D




Agreed, I think I'll be encouraging the reproduction of copepods in my reef :happy:




I think the tank will be a peninsula so I'm not sure how the rock-work is going to look.




Thanks for the well written and descriptive post.

I feel that the best option, for both aesthetics as well as functionality, will be to add copepods and use a chosen CUC to scavenge, sift the sand, etc.

If I feel the need I will introduce various other HH to the system.

So, on that note, does anyone have any suggestions as to what HH are good for a tank?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:


Worms :). Ounce for ounce one of the best things you can add.

#17
Wizzy

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Worms :). Ounce for ounce one of the best things you can add.


Do you have any specific kinds of worms you like?

And what are the benefits?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

#18
Amphiprion1

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Do you have any specific kinds of worms you like?

And what are the benefits?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:


If a sandbed isn't your priority, plain ol' amphinomid worms (what most aquarists call bristleworms) are some of the best scavengers available. They'll even eat some algae.

#19
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Bristleworms. Eat bad stuff, but can multiply quick if you don't take care of your sandbed.

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#20
Wizzy

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If a sandbed isn't your priority, plain ol' amphinomid worms (what most aquarists call bristleworms) are some of the best scavengers available. They'll even eat some algae.



Bristleworms. Eat bad stuff, but can multiply quick if you don't take care of your sandbed.



I have quite a few bristleworms in my 2 gallon Pico and I have to say I'm not fond of them.

I would think that a chosen CUC would be able to replace their place as scavengers and I wouldn't have to worry about getting hurt by their bristles or being forced to see them in my tank (I don't like the way they look)?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

#21
Amphiprion1

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I have quite a few bristleworms in my 2 gallon Pico and I have to say I'm not fond of them.

I would think that a chosen CUC would be able to replace their place as scavengers and I wouldn't have to worry about getting hurt by their bristles or being forced to see them in my tank (I don't like the way they look)?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

Bristleworms. Eat bad stuff, but can multiply quick if you don't take care of your sandbed.


They multiply in proportion to the amount of food available. If you feed a lot, you're likely have a lot of them.

Wizzy, there aren't too many things that fill in exactly the same role (and do as good of a job) and certainly not in one animal. It's a shame you don't like them.

#22
Wizzy

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They multiply in proportion to the amount of food available. If you feed a lot, you're likely have a lot of them.

Wizzy, there aren't too many things that fill in exactly the same role (and do as good of a job) and certainly not in one animal. It's a shame you don't like them.


I have actually had to almost double my feedings in the Pico because the bristleworms steals food from my corals and sexy shrimp unless they are fed.

It's not something that I want to happen in my larger tank.

I want to create a sufficient cleaning crew though so does anyone have any more suggestions on what HH are beneficial to the tank?

Thanks- Wizzy :happy:

#23
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IMHO Natural systems are the best.
They are by far the most interesting and they are far more stable and forgiving than a "Clean" system, which is pretty much entirely dependant on constant maitenence to not crash.

Bristleworms as mentioned along with a crapload of other HH's, serve a vital role in keeping the system clean.
They can go where any of the normal CuC can not.

Bristleworms are not the only thing that multiplies in proportion to how much you feed.
Cyanobacteria, Aiptasia, Bubble algae and even red flatworms are all directly linked to the available nutrients in the water.
If proper low nutrient levels are maintained none of these organisms will be able to explode into plague proportions.

#24
Wizzy

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IMHO Natural systems are the best.
They are by far the most interesting and they are far more stable and forgiving than a "Clean" system, which is pretty much entirely dependant on constant maitenence to not crash.

Bristleworms as mentioned along with a crapload of other HH's, serve a vital role in keeping the system clean.
They can go where any of the normal CuC can not.

Bristleworms are not the only thing that multiplies in proportion to how much you feed.
Cyanobacteria, Aiptasia, Bubble algae and even red flatworms are all directly linked to the available nutrients in the water.
If proper low nutrient levels are maintained none of these organisms will be able to explode into plague proportions.


Hopefully I can get by without bristleworms.

If I feel that they really make such a huge impact on a system I will be sure to add them.

Thanks- Wizzy :happy: