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Old 04-27-2019, 11:47 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Algae and Iron

I have been reading and re-reading Diana Walstad's book, "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium", because I've reached the age when low maintenance is my prime requirement for continuing to have an aquarium. While reading the book I became very interested in the sections about algae, primarily one concept: algae require minute quantities of nutrients, including iron, but iron is pretty hard to find in the water. This now has me obsessing about whether we can make a big stride towards avoiding the most obnoxious algae attacks if we make the effort to keep iron out of the water.

I have for many years been using the EI fertilizing method or modified versions of it. Those require that we dose trace element mixes, which contain iron as an important ingredient. From the book, it appears that this is like giving algae a spare key to our "house".

Algae, unlike plants, cannot get to the iron in the substrate, whether it is soil or gravel with substrate fertilizing. So, it seems like if we did all that we can to limit the iron to the substrate, our algae problems would be much easier to manage. Included in that idea is the fact that light can make what iron is in the water more available to algae, if the light is intense in the 500nm or shorter wave lengths. That means light in the blue-green to UV range.

I'm still digesting this concept, and doing more reading, but I'm wondering if many people have tried to use this as an algae control method.
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Old 04-27-2019, 03:52 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

Non substrate feeding plants would have a hard time if all the nutrients are in the substrate. So you limit your plant selection which is fine but some people prefer others.

Also if your water's pH is 7+pH, the chelated micro/iron only lasts a few hours before they become unavailable to plants & algae.

I've found a jungle tank packed with plants always control algae.
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Old 04-27-2019, 04:34 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

A heavily planted tank, with healthy growing plants, might keep the level of iron in the water low enough to reduce the algae problems. I know it is well established that lots of healthy plants seems to discourage algae, but why? One possibility would be the reduced iron in the water. The chelated iron we dose has a very short life in the water anyway, because the plants quickly remove most of it.

It's true that relying only on the substrate for plant nutrients does limit the variety of plants you can use, but Diana Walstad suggests that if you do a dry start with the stem plants, they will grow a good enough root system before the water is present to allow them to continue to grow well with just substrate nutrients. I have never tried any of these ideas so I don't know how well it will work for me.
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Old 04-27-2019, 06:52 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

I've had a NPT 10G tank I've topped of but haven't done any maintenance for years. I don't dose anything; just fish food. It has minor clado but I let it be. Part of low maintenance is to be fine with algae.

A 10G seems to be a perfect size.
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Old 04-28-2019, 02:33 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

The interesting theory Ms Walstad mentions in her book is the effect of strong light on iron. Algae are limited by how much iron they can take up, and all of it has to come from the water. One thing many of us notice is that the more intense our light is, the bigger our algae problems are, so we tend to use no more light than we have to. But, if light causes momentary increases in available iron, that would explain why more intense light leads to more algae. And, it suggests that if we can keep the iron in the water down to near zero, more light won't lead to more algae. And, if that level of iron in the water is essentially zero, we shouldn't have more than trivial algae.

I still wonder if anyone has made an effort to apply this, by never dosing iron in the water. I do vaguely recall that a few European hobbyists have promoted limiting iron to a much lower level than most of us have strived to have. I wonder if that is related to this?
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Old 04-28-2019, 04:12 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

How does light make iron more available?

You'll have to make a distinction of which 'iron'... Iron Oxide could be ubiquitous but can't be used by plants or algae.
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Old 04-28-2019, 04:39 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

To quote Ms Walstad, "Intense light makes iron more avaliable for algae in a process called "iron photoreduction". I googled it and found https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...67064504001961 and https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...04420304002257 and https://www.semanticscholar.org/pape...8dcbb65ce512ac and https://www.advancedaquarist.com/2002/10/chemistry


Another quote from Ms Walstad: "I would be more concerned about Fe than P (or nitrates). That 0.1 ppm Fe level may be stimulating algae."

If I recall correctly, the photoreduction process separates Fe+++ from any chelator for a very short time, but enough for algae to grab the iron.
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Old 04-28-2019, 06:28 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

FWIW I've been measuring Fe consumption in a high light CO2 tank for 12 weeks.
The daily average of a densely planted tank is .015ppm of Fe per day.
My dense planting is quite heavy!
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Old 05-01-2019, 02:01 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

A high light tank, with CO2 being added, will cause the plants to grow too fast for the substrate nutrients to supply all that the plants need. So, we dose the water column to keep them growing. This process works somewhat different from lower light tanks. But, the effect of iron in the water, with intense lighting causing iron photoreduction, should be the same. I can't reconcile that with Ms Walstad's theory, knowing that many people do have high light, CO2 dosed tanks with iron being dosed in the water, and which don't have serious algae problems. But, there has to be a way to explain it. Similarly, why does a heavily planted tank discourage algae growth? It cannot just be magic. The physical reactions, and the science behind them, should be consistent whatever light intensity or fertilizing method or substrate we use.
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Old 05-01-2019, 05:20 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Algae and Iron

We can go with allelopathy or simple oxidation to ward off algae off the plants. Oxidation on algae and iron. It looks like the iron oxidizes at night and photoreduce during the photoperiod.


I see BBA grow on hardscape but not healthy plants.

Last edited by mistergreen; 05-01-2019 at 05:34 PM..
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