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Good biological filtration is essential in aquariums with either a high fish load or few to no plants. We’ve discussed to basics of bio filtration in other videos but haven’t yet talked about the various types of media used to facilitate it. It’s true that nitrifying bacteria live attached to surfaces throughout the aquarium but for non-planted tank owners this simply is not enough to detoxify all the ammonia produced by fish and microbial activity. Implementing an efficient bio filter can make all the difference. The question still arises: What type of bio media should I use???
This question can be difficult to answer because everyone’s tank has a different set of parameters and thus different filter requirements. Hopefully watching this video helps put things into perspective.
I would like to talk additionally about aerobic and anaerobic conditions and how they influence microbial activity. We know from previous videos that both genus of nitrifying bacteria require oxygen in order to oxidize ammonia and nitrite. We have to fully understand the micro environment of our media and how that is directly correlated to its efficiency. Anytime our media is submerged like in a DIY powerhead filter, we are relying on the dissolved oxygen present in the aquarium. Depending on your setup and the temperature, oxygen could be limited. This limitation is further enhanced due to heterotrophic bacteria living side by side with nitrifiers. Heterotrophs also require oxygen and it turns out they have a higher affinity for it. This means that competition for oxygen is high and unfortunately, our nitrifying bacteria will lose every time.
So how can we overcome an oxygen limited environment to ensure our nitrifiers can preform? One method is using a trickle filter containing any type of media that never becomes fully submerged. This open air (aerobic) environment will provide plenty of oxygen for all the microbes living in the filter. However, depending on the media you implement, this won’t be the case for the entire structure of the media. The inside of most media’s (especially ceramic rings) will over time clog up and create anaerobic sites (no oxygen). This environment will facilitate the growth of heterotrophs and other bacteria capable of preforming denitrification, a process where nitrate is used as an electron acceptor instead of oxygen. This activity will result in the reduction of nitrate to Nitrous oxide and nitrogen gas. This can be a great thing, reducing the overall nitrate pool generated from classical biological filtration.
The second way to resolve oxygen limitation is to use an air driven filter like the fluidized type seen in the video. This method of filtration has multiple benefits, one being that oxygen is supplied generously, resulting in extremely efficient ammonia detoxification.