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Some Thoughts Concerning Pico Ecology


jjh1392

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Lately I've been reading up on as much material about picos as I can get my hands on (since I'm starting my own 4 gallon). And maybe I've just missed something but it seems like we're missing something major if most picos can only be sustained for a year or two max. El Fab's (which is IMOP, the greatest and most well documented tank we have to reference with the exception of maybe 1 or 2 others) method of high quality LR and managing a mini fuge which essentially locks up some nutrients for export appears to have worked fairly well. But why?

 

I believe the answer lies in nutrient cycling. Or more specifically, spiraling. I'm an ecology major so my knowledge is still quite limited on the subject but- spiraling is a process through which nutrients pass through an ecosystem. We have tracked tagged isotopes of phosphorous through freshwater streams and some interesting patterns were found. The nutrient travelled down a stretch of river more slowly when the diversity was higher than in a stream that had lower diversity. The nutrient is cycled more times in a more rich environment therefore it isn't "polluting" for a longer period of time. I'll find the paper later today or tomorrow. El Fab's tank had very high diversity. I think we can agree on that. As I was reading his posts a few weeks back I noticed that many of his corals survived. Not until now did I think that was odd. In Biosphere 2, scores of species went extinct and the system found a new equilibrium that wasn't exactly viable for the humans living inside. Our aquariums are essentially biospheres with the exception of our activities and those of the atmosphere. In Biosphere 2, the ocean biome also experienced eutrophication (much like our tanks often do).

 

I'm proposing a theory here - what if we cycled our tanks longer, slowly stocked various benthic organisms, allowed algae to dominate if it wanted to, let the tank create its own equilibrium and try to maintain diversity on the lower tropic levels first. Then slowly add our corals and fish. We would need to understand the carrying capacity of our systems better. Expand the nutrient process and use it to our advantage to export nutrients. We all do this to some degree but not enough to truly replicate a "reef".

 

I would really like to expand this idea and explore its possibilities. Just throwing it out here for the time being. Any ideas?

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people are too impatient for the most part to start and keep a pico like that. you see the majority get fish into their tanks or coral after the two week mark or even sooner which is ridiculous. most of the time it actually works for them in the short run but the long run remains unknown.

 

I am supporting your idea of a slow start. that is not how i started because my pico was my first SW tank and i was too excited to get some different types of life in my tank. After experiencing reefing for a bit now, and reading on the subject, I would be interested in starting a reef up similarly to the way you suggested - as a slow and more natural process. Lets face it most of our pico reefs here look very artificial. I really want to see a natural looking pico, but unfortunately i cant really do that with my current pico. maybe I'll make another sometime in the future using the slow method of just letting things sit and develop on their own without many quick introductions of new animals.

 

More than half of this reefing community will likely think what i posted here is crazy :P

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People are always too quick. This is my first tank and I really want to experiment with it and just see how things pan out. I just added live rock yesterday so...maybe I could try this with mine. Thanks for the support - I've seen you in a lot of other threads and I believe your input is generally sound.

 

Most of the tanks do look artificial in some way. That isn't exactly bad as long as the components function as a working ecosystem. I've been interested in biospherics for awhile and I've set up freshwater tanks that run themselves. Heck my parents let my planted 20 gallon at home evaporate to a 10 gallon and just add water later when I ask how my angels are doing. That thing is invincible. Reefs are way more sensitive to handle something like that however maybe I can induce the same system. I really like the idea of just letting it run itself with my involvement being minimal.

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I was actually thinking of building a pico reef that essentially only needs top offs to keep salinity constant. its just a concept at this point, and its likely going to be next to impossible from having it crash with algae. but i can still think about it and how it might work. If I were to do it, i would start with a small pico designed much like Brandon's vase to keep things cheaper if the setup does fail at any time.

 

Let me throw an idea at you. idk if you are familiar with freshwater shrimp keeping, but that part of the hobby has a product called mineral spheres or rocks. its something designed to condition the water slightly and provide ions for shrimp to build up their bodies and exoskeletons as they grow. here is a link to such a product:

http://theshrimplab.com/store/?p=1007

The site does not show much information about the contents of this thing, but it does function similarly to a mineral rock and does provide necessary dissolved solids for shrimp to grow.

 

Now i am not sure if this thing would even work around SW (although a similar product called the mineral rock works in SW) but it would be interesting if a few of these sphere things could supply a pico with necessary traces and ions that reefs need such as iodine, calcium, magnesium, etc. without the need for dosing or water changing. what do you think about all this? (besides that it would never work lol. i want to see reasoning.) thanks.

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just another idea, I took ecology a couple years ago so I could have this wrong, but I remember something about having a certain level of disturbance is necessary for all ecosystems. Too much disturbance bad, too little, bad. I dont know how that could be achieved in such a controlled environment like our tanks, or even if it relates to the ocean at all, lol. I dont know, ill prob never have a pico last 2 years without moving or changing tanks to find out. It does seem weird that they have a 2 year lifespan though. Good to know!

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jjh 1392 would the goal of your approach be to have a system free of pest algae or a system where the natural selection controls the algae inside and the keeper lets it run its course? most dont want a tank choked with algae

 

There are very simple methods to make a pico reef run indefinately-without algae and without crashing and they aren't very natural at all. Agu's tank on reefcentral is a ten gallon at 8 yrs old same inhabitants for ex

 

I can see some appeal in an all natural system if the ends were the same-clean healthy corals and no bad algae, but no one has done this before Id be interested to track a thread where it began.

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The mineral rock (assuming it works in SW) would only work as long as it lasted. What you need is a turn over. Corals and invertebrates would inevitably need to die and the substances locked up within them become bioavailable. That was one thing I noticed in the Ecosphere products. You have to have enough organisms dying and living simultaneously to turn everything over. Within a coral system the corals would need room and nutrients to grow and then die off to an extent do others could grow as their skeletons are reclaimed both physically and chemically.

 

With the disturbances - yea, that's a part of life. Disturbances are a trigger of sorts for evolutionary processes as well as destratifying mature systems. For example - forest fires restart sections of forest while also maintaining others.

 

Now, I don't know if that's needed in a reef. Aren't reefs structures composed of thousands of years of coral growth? One right on top of the other? The disturbances could be used to benefit our small systems I think. Renewing live rock and sand is a disturbance. Fragging corals to allow more grow. Then when we do things like refreshing our CUC - that's kind of like on step in succession after a disturbance or maybe stirring up diversity to maintain nutrient spiraling. Your recolonizing the area which in turn may be beneficial or not depending on your choice of organisms.

 

A closed system like you're talking about is next to impossible with our current knowledge of ecology. It's a relatively knew field. We can't even do it with humans living within the system. There are some other missing links. But I hope soon we can figure it out.

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No, not choked with algae. Algae is a naturally occurring part of the system. Most of the world's oxygen comes from algal photosynthesis in the ocean. My goal would be a way to use it to our advantage. So that it would become a part of the overall ecosystem of the tank. Figure out a way to build a refugium that could efficiently grow algal that can be exported from the system to keep up with nutrients going in. How can we make the tank process the nutrients on its own. What if we could build a system that fed, cleaned, and regulated itself without our help? A true closed-system? Would be neat - but next to impossible without a lot of experimentation and expertise in many subjects with many collaborators I'd think. And obviously not for everyone.

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so say you replaced the mineral rock thing every year or so. do you think that would help keep the system more hands free?

the main purpose i am thinking about the rock is to supply a constant source of minerals and ions that are normally replenished with weekly water changes...what i am thinking about is a tank that only really needs top offs, and the yearly change of those mineral rock things. i wonder how long they would last in SW- assuming they work at all.

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If you replaced it whenever it was finished, and just did top-offs and water changes...I think it would definitely work. I mean - why wouldn't it? Would you be feeding the tank?

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idk about feeding, that's another issue to work out. the chosen corals would get most food from lighting plus dissolved wastes of w/e other organisms live in the rocks. but the other organisms would have to get food from some where. food would have to come from algae growth (assuming i put cheato in there or some other macro algae). growths on the macro algae and micro algae in the tank would supply food for the small animals that in turn produce waste such as nitrates(at the end of the nitrogen cycle) that can be used by coral...idk its a stretch right now, but I'll work it out more later.

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The most common reason i can find for pico's not lasting very long is due to people going to fast, and after a while, becoming disinterested in it, moving, etc. Not many people seem to actually put in the same amount of effort after two years as they did the first year.There are always exceptions to the rule. But, we are dealing with closed systems, at some point, it will crash, not a matter of when. We can only duplicate nature so much in our little slices of ocean.

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Yes it's a plan for the future. It's going to be a brandon - type vase pico, covered with a lid to prevent much of the evaporation. No ATO, since i probably wouldn't be able to fit a float sensor in there, so I'll likely just top off manually. Once a week by hand isn't bad though. It would be fun to try this concept out. I also want it to be mostly a pico with only easy and simple soft corals and no real stocking outside of asterina starfish - which are small enough to live in a 1 gallon system. Now i realize I may be complicating things by housing a coral eating animal like asterinas, but i think I can work it out somehow. I'll let you know if i ever put this concept into practice. I already have my asterinas isolated in a temporary container until I set this thing up. They've been doing well for the past three months without a real tank to live in.

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How quickly do those guys reproduce?

 

I saw this one tank (not sure who built it or where I even saw it) that was BB and the guy would completely drain it and refill it once a week. Can corals really handle that?

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JamieSheffield

I'm enjoying reading this thread!

 

I'm working on setting up a 1G closed jar SW system, and have been trying to keep my 10G pretty simple...all invertebrates and simple corals so far...

 

One thing that occurs to me (allowing for the fact that I'm very new to the hobby, and am mostly limited to what I have read and not what I've experienced) is that the LR in nano tanks may simply max out after a couple of years, and something like a 20% turnover of LR (in favor of new rock) each year might help tank longevity for a variety of reasons.

 

It's hard to maintain the necessary diversity in a 10G tank (much less 6 or 4 or 3 or 2 or smaller). I tried to give my nano a headstart in terms of benthics by inoculating it at the beginning with some LR rubble and some muck/mud/goo from the bottom of the tanks at Premium Aquatics. It seems to have worked in that (so far) my tank seems to have cycled pretty quickly, and seems able to hold stable water parameters with beasties and feedings and only weekly floss changes (I may up that to twice a week).

 

I visited the Biosphere as a part of my graduate work in biology when I lived in the West, and found it a fascinating place...I read everything that I could find on the subject, and have numerous self-built enclosed ecosystems in both aquatic and terrestrial formats...it's a cool mental exercise, and they make pretty and easy to care for room decorations.

 

Sorry for the TL;DR, but this thread gets to the heart of one of the things that I'm liking most about nano-tanking and SW...the ecology and balancing of systems to sustain life outside of the home environment.

 

Thanks,

 

Jamie

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Jamie - I'm really glad you're interested in this topic too! Setting up a SW tank is one thing. Setting up one (of any size) that can be entirely inclosed? Whole 'nother animal!

 

Biosphere 2 caught my interest from an early age and, like you, I've read everything I could about it. After I get the nack of maintaining a saltie - I really want to work on making something self-containing. I guess that's why I made this thread. Just trying to get some feedback on SW ecology and things other people have done with their tanks to make them as hands-free as possible.

 

Why is it so hard to maintain diversity in our tanks? Why is refreshing them necessary to maintain that diversity?

 

I was think yesterday while I was at work: What if one built a display tank that was in-circuit with a much larger volume of water. Say 100g display to 200-300g container of SW? And no other organisms (except microbes) lived in the larger volume? Wouldn't the corals be limited by the size of their enclosure but not by the volume of water? Is this making any sense?

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JamieSheffield

The self-contained ecosystems can work with a couple of simple species at pretty low density...but eventually they tend to fall apart and become algal containers...

 

I think that it's hard to maintain biodiversity in SW tanks in general, and nano tanks more specifically, because of the density of biomass that we cram into such a small space...the natural world is generally more empty than occupied, but our tanks are the opposite...all of this life tends to bump into each other and either get bitey or die off and dump nutrients into the small environment...similar to the problems experienced in Biosphere2...

 

A truly sustainable 10G aquarium would have very little biomass in it, most of it microscopic, and at the simple end of things...

 

Jamie

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You're absolutely right. It would be interesting to determine just how much space and just how much an individual organism would need to live within a closed space. No?

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JamieSheffield
You're absolutely right. It would be interesting to determine just how much space and just how much an individual organism would need to live within a closed space. No?

 

At the Biosphere2 site, there's a cabin-sized version of the biosphere, like cube of 3 meters on a side in glass and steel...one of the biospherians, I don't remember which, went inside for a weekend I believe...it's cool, but couldn't be sustainable...

 

In SW, I think that the 1G jar I'm working on will support some LR, some chaeto, some pods (cope and amphi), and a few snails...that seems like a lot, but they're pretty simple beasties, and they should be able to make a foodweb that keeps nutrients cycling and locked up rather than poisoning the air and water...fingers crossed anyways...

 

Jamie

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lots of us are doing the weekly drain and change

 

all the life handles it no problems

 

its a mimic of fringing reef areas that may or may not be submerged with the tidal ebb and flow

 

most of the reef organisms we were told can't be out of water can, including sponges, seriatopora etc.

 

and those few examples can be left out of the stocking of any nice tank just to be sure if there's a question

 

changing out all the water is total export, or as much as possible anway. its total ion replacement, its a cheat to use when the system is small and its practical. Not only can the corals tolerate it, they grow better with the stimulus/mucus production and the ability to blast feed the tank that full water changes allows.

 

I like your idea of dissolving dosing rocks, anything to lessen the work would be nice. You will have a tough time in some systems however dissolving bases at the pH we run relative to the need for replacement, like Jamie said it seems some ratio of biomass would be in check to find the right bind/release action for the ions we need to continually add to the water column.

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thats the trouble i was fearing of running into. i am first trying it out in a FW bowl, but if it works, i will try setting up a SW pico with similar methods.

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Hey guys I bumped into this thread and it seems quite interesting. Let me add my little grain of sand in this conversation. I currently run succesfully a 75 gal. sw reef. It was first a 20 gal. hex, then a 55 and now a 75 (I won't go any bigger, I promise :P ). I started last Sunday an Aqueon Evolve 2 as my first Pico tank. Before I decided to make that decission after I read as much as I could about picos. Well, what I see as a problem is that changes in the parameters of such small masses of water carry a lot of problems. For example, if there is a fluctuation in my 75 and small number of pods die, the system's bioload + critters may help solve the problem making my tank less prone to crash. In the same scenario with my 2 gallons tank that would be a major problem and the spark for dissaster.

Some people may suggest that the mass of bioload is related to the volume of water in the tank (with a moderate sand bed and good numbers of LR) but due to the small size of this systems, in my opinion, what makes them so delicate is the ease to fluctuate in a shorter period of time, compared to bigger tanks. So, speaking of LR and sand bed as bufferers and surfaces on which bacteria and microorganisms proliferate, We should have more success keeping tanks without no problems if we do not overpopulate them and think more of small quantities of aditions and stocking and realizing the equilibrium needed.

And, to finish, cycling the longer before any aditions to the tank the more chances of success in the long run. Proven. Tried. I agree 100%.

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