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Old 03-17-2007, 01:40 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Best of luck to you!! It's relatively easy to set up a self-sustaining tank... but extremely difficult to make one that looks like what you want. For example, you could find your nearest pond, dig up some substrate from it, buy a whole bunch of plants, pour some pond water in, add some fish, and let the ecosystem sort itself out. Or you can remove the equipment and maintenance from an established tank and watch it crash. Eventually - several months to a year down the road - the tank will come to some type of equilibrium (or more accurately, a stable limit cycle). The tank would exhibit all stages of the life cycle, not just plant and fish growth, but also senescence and death. At any given moment there would be a few plants fading away slowly, and some more plants growing to fill in the space. Just like any ecosystem. Algae might end up being a major element in the ecosystem too, eventually reaching some stable equilibrium point. Algae might not look good, but it certainly can have an important role in an ecosystem.

Also, the aquaria we are used to seeing are very top heavy in the food chain department. In nature, the bottom of the food chain is massive compared to the top. That is, there is a whole array of life consisting of bacteria, protozoa, algae, infusoria, planaria, plants, etc. that would be needed to sustain even a single guppy. You might have to accept that it could take a 100 gallon tank to house a single small fish in a completely closed ecosystem. Especially true if that fish is carnivorous. Not quite as bad if the fish is an algae eater, herbivorous, or omnivorous.

That said, if you loosen the restriction of completely self-sustaining and allow a person to perform maintenance or feeding, say, on a weekly or monthly basis, you can shift the balance and perhaps have higher fish load and less algae. I'm imagining a cherry shrimp and nerite snail tank that a person might only feed on the weekends, for example. Once you start to keep fish, I think it gets harder.

I definitely think your concept is achievable - as long as you let go of any preconceptions about what it should look like and just let it evolve into what it wants to be. You'd have to set it up then just watch it evolve, and not interfere. That said, I think there are several things you could do at the outset, though, that would strongly influence the final equilibrium point and make for reasonable aesthetics:
  • I strongly second bpimm's comment - the El Natural method would provide a good foundation for the ecosystem. Zapin's approach overlaps a lot with this method. Basically, a soil based substrate as described in Diana Walstad's Ecology of the Planted Aquarium would give rooted plants some long term advantages and stability and shift the tank balance from [an algae tank with a few plants] to [a planted tank with some algae].
  • For plants I like stepheus's suggestion - grassy foreground plants like eleocharis or e. tenellus - for several reasons. These are rooted plants, which will make good use of the substrate and fish-poo nutrients, again shifting the balance from algae to plants. Second, they would require no maintenance (unlike stem plants) and would eventually reach an equilibrium population (unlike large swords which seem to grow without bound). Finally, these plants would probably not look too bad when they die and fade away (compared to larger plants).
  • I might also consider some floating plants. I'm not sure how they would shift the balance. On one hand they can make use of atmospheric CO2 and can reduce the nutrient levels in the water column - which could shift the balance away from algae. But on the other hand, they might cover the entire water surface and prevent healthy growth from the rooted plants, leading to poor substrate health. If you did use floating plants, I might recommend adding some crypts as well, to keep the substrate healthy under reduced light.
  • For critters, I would add snails. Malaysian trumpet snails may be beneficial to the substrate as Zapin said. Pond or ramshorn snails would be good for debris removal. Nerites would probably be good (I've never had them) at removing some of the tough algaes like green spot from the aquarium glass, although they don't breed in freshwater so they wouldn't be self sustaining. I would not worry about the other snails being too prolific - eventually the population will stabilize.
  • Some folks have kept colonies of black worms (??) alive in their substrate, and these might be a good food source for omnivorous fish. I believe Alex ("Miss Fishy" screen name) has done this before, here's one link but I think she has others describing this as well.
  • I would also add cherry shrimp. They are prolific breeders and you could be assured that a stable population would exist in the tank.
  • And finally fish. Not sure if too many would fit the bill. I would say stick with very small, prolific, non-carnivorous fish. Maybe endler's livebearers, guppies, or dwarf platies. Again, being prolific and small, you'd be assured that a few would survive long enough to breed, thus sustaining a population. Some balance would probably be reached. Eventually many of the fry would become food for the adults and/or the inverts in the tank. These livebearers will also eat some algae and the infusoria growing on it, and snail eggs when hungry.
  • If you came back in 3 months and saw that algae was out of control, you could add some otocinclus. But that's only if the tank is an algae factory. The otos would shift the balance back toward the plants. With luck they might breed and keep the population stable. But if there is not much algae in the tank after several months, then the oto's would likely not survive long.
One last consideration is the things that can escape the tank. Namely water (evaporation) and CO2. Evaporation top-off might only be a monthly chore with a good lid, but I'm not sure about the CO2/alkalinity chemistry. I'm really not sure on this one, but it might be helpful if you had a small amount of calcareous material in the tank. I know that many artificial lakes and ponds require periodic additions of limestone (or is it lime?). So that might be a long term factor too.

Wow I guess I got carried away. It's just such a cool idea and I wish you all the best. Someday when I have a basement I might try to do this as an experiment. Please let us know how it turns out!!

Last edited by littleguy; 03-17-2007 at 01:48 PM..
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Old 03-17-2007, 02:20 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Why not just make a very low light (or a no light at all) moss only tank? Here's a good example:

Front:


Top:


- Manzanita.com branches wrapped in moss
- any gravel (not nutritious) will be fine
- less than 0.5 wpg of any light you want
- a small air driven sponge filter for some economical water movement
- any dwarf shrimp you want
- malaysan trumpet snails
- few small livebearers

Done.

That is not a plan for a self supporting system. There is no "A feeds B -- B's waste feeds C -- C feeds A". That's a plan for a 99% hands free tank. You will never have to wipe off algae. Evaporation will be the only thing that will invite water changes.

--Nikolay

Last edited by niko; 04-11-2007 at 10:26 PM..
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Old 03-17-2007, 02:31 PM   #13 (permalink)
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fuzzimuzzi, I love the project that you have embarked upon.

If I may ask the question,
are your parents comfortable with you leaving something like this for them to care for?

I ask the question because I know the reaction or challenge I have with someone taking care of my tanks while I am away for a short vacation or time away from home.

Do your parents share your passion and or hobby?
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Old 03-17-2007, 06:24 PM   #14 (permalink)
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to zapins: you said that you'd use something else as substrate...what is it?

Soil as the under layer with a little bit of peat moss, and blasting sand or some other sand on top.

is MTS = Malaysian Trumpet Snail? I live in Malaysia...so...I might try to look for it...

Yep

is aeration of the substrate really that crucial?...

Yes keeping the soil aerated is pretty much vital. Without the snails (or worms) your soil will eventually become depleted of oxygen causing your plant roots to die off (since a plant's roots take in oxygen). In addition, there will be large bubbles of bad smelling gas that bubble out of the soil without the MTS'.

as for the CO2 system...I want the gas cycle in the tank to be self-sufficient also...maybe for the start I'll put that...

Without adding CO2 to the tank it won't look as vibrant as a CO2 tank, but you can certainly run a tank without additional CO2.
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Old 03-21-2007, 02:48 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Default Re: Self-sufficient tank

Went to my friends place to check out his tank... about 5x2x3 feet... here are the pics:

http://picasaweb.google.com/limcheng...21213578539298
http://picasaweb.google.com/limcheng...21651665203506
http://picasaweb.google.com/limcheng...21986672652610

He has 4 goldfish. All healthy, their fins are full and no sign of roting. His tank has NO substrate!!... the ferns inside just grow...There's no snail no shrimp no algae eater...yet the water is clear enough see to the bottom... so cool... he doesn't feed them...that's way cool!!...

p.s. the ghost shrimp didn't survive the test. I guess they may eat algae...but they can't clear a half gallon tank full of free floating algae. I won't be coming to the forum for the next week or so. School tests starts tomorrow.
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Old 03-23-2007, 02:08 PM   #16 (permalink)
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fuzzimuzzi, good luck on your tests.
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Old 03-27-2007, 03:48 AM   #17 (permalink)
 
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I have seen an article about biosphere/ecosphere its a totally sealed aquarium perfectly balance.. heard it can be done DIY... never tried, not yet

http://www.eco-sphere.com/care_manual.htm
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Old 03-27-2007, 04:43 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Default Re: Self-sufficient tank

Quote:
Originally Posted by niko View Post
Why not just make a very low light (or a no light at all) moss only tank? Here's a good example:

Front:
http://www.xylema.net/images/stories.../01g%20(4).jpg

Top:
http://www.xylema.net/images/stories.../01g%20(0).jpg

- Manzanita.com branches wrapped in moss
- any gravel (not nutritious) will be fine
- less than 0.5 wpg of any light you want
- a small air driven sponge filter for some economical water movement
- any dwarf shrimp you want
- malaysan trumpet snails
- few small livebearers

Done.

That is not a plan for a self supporting system. There is no "A feeds B -- B's waste feeds C -- C feeds A". That's a plan for a 99% hands free tank. You will never have to wipe off algae. Evaporation will be the only thing that will invite water changes.

--Nikolay
Wow, I love this setup. I had not even considered anything like this but your picturers are inspiring.
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Old 04-01-2007, 12:21 AM   #19 (permalink)
 
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Default Re: Self-sufficient tank

niko--that is a very nice aquarium, i never thought of moss only tanks. I have a question though, what are those plants sticking out of the water on thr manzanita branches?
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Old 04-02-2007, 09:26 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Default Re: Self-sufficient tank

at this store i saw a globe the size of your palm that was enclosed. inside was like a plant and some small shrimps or krill, and it was said to be able to sit there for 10 years wihtout the shrimp dying. pretty interesting.
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