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Old 03-28-2006, 09:02 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Get to Know... Tom Barr

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself (your CV).

Education:
Water Treatment: Sacramento State
BS in Aquatic Biology: University of California, Santa Barbara
MS in Botany, University of Florida, Gainesville
Ph.D. in Plant Sciences: in progress, UC Davis

I teach Biology at a Community college. In the future I will seek a position at UC as a professor and researcher.

Planted aquariums have been my focus since 1989. I've had some plants in my tanks since about 1977 and was keeping fully planted tanks before starting my college education. For about 10 years I've maintained, designed and 'scaped planted aquariums as a business. These tanks have ranged from about 1 gallon to almost 1600 gallons.

Many societies and meetings have invited me to speak over the years, covering a wide range of topics on both freshwater and marine aquatic plants. I've designed numerous devices to help aquarists and have done woodworking, acrylic, and plastics fabrication. I am involved with local fish and plant clubs, serving on their Board of Directors for several years.

For the past 5 years I have done substantial lake management as part of my environmental consulting business. Current projects include larger Koi ponds, fungi control, lakes, and wetland creation.

I have been working for the California Dept of Food and Agriculture doing educational outreach, review articles, and testing of herbicides on aquatic invasive weeds. More recently, my role with the CDFA is smaller and I am moving to UC Davis' Aquatic Weed lab to work with Dr. Lars Anderson. We will be looking at the Synergistic Effects of Multiple Alternative Treatments on Hydrilla verticillata, Egeria densa and Eurasian milfoil. Presently I am conducting research control efforts with South American Sponge plant (Limnobium spongia var laevigatum) and will be starting a 2-year funded Hydrilla tuber study and a Purple Loostrife study later this fall.

I have had articles published in English, Polish, German, Italian, and French with articles in Weed science journals, TFH, FAMA, TAG, AP and RA, AP and GGA. Monthly in-depth review articles about aquatic plants can be found at www.BarrReport.com.

I seek an understanding of the basic questions surrounding plant growth and control. My research addresses both herbicidal and non-herbicidal methods and using new approaches to solve aquatic weed control issues. These include both microphytes (generally algae) and macrophytes (plants and seaweeds) in fresh and saltwater environments. Establishing the minimum effective dosing level for a target weed without building up resistance to the herbicide is an important part of my work. This reduces cost, minimizes the impact to non-target plants, and reduces the long-term environmental impacts.

I've discussed a variety of topics over the years on the web and in person with many people interested in plants. I am involved with a number of local societies and am a member of SFBAAPS in San Francisco, CA, the oldest and perhaps largest aquatic plant hobbyist group in the USA.

2. How did you get involved with aquarium plants?

I kept them from the time I started. Most tanks had water sprite, creeping jenny, and various water weeds from the local areas. The LFS I worked at as kid always had a few plants growing well in some of their tanks. I got involved in fully planted tanks after thinking about adding some plants to all the driftwood I'd collected. I knew very little about plants at the time. I found Dupla planted tanks and equipment, but did not feel it was needed to do well.

3. What are your favorite books? Movies? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages? Vacation spot?

Authors: Steinbeck, Payne, Milton, Plato, Faulkner, and various philosophers.
Movies: Sci Fi/Animation.
Music: Most styles of music. I play bass.
Games: Candy Land with my 4 year-old Nephew is about it lately.
Food: Fish, fowl, Thai, Indian, Chinese and veggies, of course anything with sugar also.
Drink: Water, a rare swig of siphoned tank water and tea are my main liquids.
Vacation spots: coral reefs and marine plants, high altitude mountaintops, mountain bike micas, jungles, wetlands.

4. What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point? Any failures you'd like to tell us about?

I guess it would be getting around some of the dogma that folks always seem to get caught up in. If I had to pick one thing, the best accomplishment would be helping folks. My list of failures is too long to discuss here. At some point I’ve likely experienced most of the problems that other folks have.

5. It is no secret that you brought a novel perspective to planted aquarium fertilization with your Estimative Index. How did you come up with EI in the first place? How has it evolved over the years?

I'm not sure making a relatively simple standard solution each week is really my idea, but that's how it evolved. The only novel thing is the application to our hobby. Steve Dixon and I talked about a range of optimal parameters many years ago. I eventually wrote an article on it from our talks (see the reference section of sfbappas.com). Initially, it included testing and lower, more conservative ranges for most nutrients.

We explored higher nutrient levels and how far things could be pushed before seeing algae or stunting of the plant growth. We had a nice set of test kits (actually Steve did) and we checked their accuracies. After we got a decent handle on these ranges, I went about pushing them further to see if they might cause algae at higher concentrations. Upper limits were not especially important for most every nutrient except NH4. At least this held true for ranges of nutrients that one might normally find or be able to target without a test kit. I simply did huge water changes, and then added the nutrients back. From there you eyeball the plants, rather than relying on the test kits. If the plants look good, then the water changes will prevent any build up. Estimations of concentration based on teaspoon weights and water volume did the rest. Soon I'd done it so many times that I could help folks anywhere with little information. If I overdid something I could easily rely on the next water change to remove things. After experiencing nothing except awesome plant growth and others started to report the same effect, folks stopped relying on the test kits so much.

The real problem was folk's insistence on using test kits. Most used them infrequently, and only after a problem had occurred. They didn’t look to test a specific hypothesis, and often relied on inaccurate readings. Everyone wanted to know all the tested parameters, yet few knew how they interacted together or what caused the algae issues. Some felt EI was a leap of faith, yet folks already knew how to do a water change. ADA's routine is not much different.

6. How has the aquarium plants market changed in the last 10 years?

Well, we could get perhaps 50 species 10 years ago. Now we can get over 300. Folks in one part of the world are able to quickly send the plants all over. Availability has made leaps and bounds. As folks have had less issues growing, they are focusing more on aquascaping. This is a nice trend. Folks everywhere are getting good at it, not just in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands. There are far more folks involved and fewer academic types who were primarily the ones that tried and figured out so much. Today the “how” is fairly easy to address.

7. How do you see the aquarium plants market in general changing over the next 5 to 10 years?

I suppose more of the same, more folks doing ’scaping, more growth in the hobby, more public awareness, more competitions, more species available, more folks keeping open tops, and better lighting. There will be more brands and enhancements made to the hobby.

8. Do you have any thoughts about the US aquarium plants market?

This is pretty much what I spoke of above. Across the world many localized areas are embarking on a renaissance of planted tank “how and why.” As articles are translated and people share information on the web, they develop their ability to grow plants. One must be able to grow before they can garden. While I have tried to help many folks with the how and why, the ’scaping is something they need to do and try on their own. I will offer suggestions and options but seldom a critique. I feel it is my duty to help folks without access to correct information, or worse, misinformation.

9. Tell us a little bit about The Barr Report. Why did you decide to start it up? How's it going?

Well, I thought Greg Watson was trying to sell me Amway and multilevel marketing – it was his idea. I have little interest in web design, so he wanted to do that part, while I added content. Folks have complained for years that I did not have a site. It seemed that to have any lasting credentials one needed some photos and a web site.

Many of the things I've figured out over the years needed more support and needed to be written up in a nice format. There are plenty of books and beginner articles out there already, but not much on the culture of aquatic plants that really addressed things like PO4 and algae effectively. This way, I have a routine to get a book written in a step-wise manner. The money had nothing to do with it. I just get sick of repeating myself a dozen times a day.

It is going much better than we'd hoped. I don’t think it's something anyone else can duplicate and the value will last. It was a better idea than publishing a magazine with all the problems inherent to translation, etc. I can send it to anyone with an internet connection instantly. They can print it out or read it from the screen any time. Eventually I'll edit it and produce a much-needed book on Aquatic Plant horticulture for aquariums.

10. Are you conducting any interesting experiments at the moment that you can share with us?

I'd have to kill you if I told you.

My substrate test is almost done. There are a couple of tests yet to do, but I might not get to it before moving on. There are several things we are looking at in the lab. There is also a very simple test method I will write up for hobbyists that can help evaluate substrate differences that I will share in the coming month or two. As I write articles for the Barr Report, I learn a great deal as well, and this generates ideas. But mostly I am looking at some basic things: CO2 mist/circulation, delivery; substrates; low O2/organic decomposition of plant leaves (a source of organic nitrogen that includes NH4) and algae. I have a simple method to do relative growth rate (RGR) analysis for aquarist with a relatively cheap scale. I also want to show folks how to properly calibrate a testing method and will write a short article for each this spring for the BarrReport, in addition to the new articles on Oxygen, PO4, SO4, etc.

11. Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
I'm not nearly as crotchety in person, I used to skateboard 24/7, and had long hair.

Last edited by BryceM; 04-04-2006 at 01:22 PM..
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Old 04-15-2006, 08:11 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Eventually I'll edit it and produce a much-needed book on Aquatic Plant horticulture for aquariums.
That would really be a best seller Mr. Barr. I prefer to have your knowledge collected in my bookshelf rather than retreivable from the internet. It will be a collectable item for sure!

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Old 04-22-2006, 07:17 AM   #3 (permalink)
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It would be nice to see that everyone took the time to do there profile like this. Thanks for all the support and knowledge you bring to this Forum and others like it.
Charley
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