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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm probably leaving for further studies soon. But I want to leave some junk in my parents to contend with. Thinking of creating a self-sufficient tank. Somewhere along the lines of a 5x1.5x3 feet tank. If biology class serves me right, I need to create a complete ecosystem in the tank. So anyone got any ideas as to what plants, what fish and how to go about it? No feeding, no filters and no water changes. Just occasional addition of water. I know it is possible because some duo from university managed to create one. A constant renewable food source is the first problem I wanna solve. Help!
 

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I've had one run before by accident when a filter died for a few months when away, apart from the food source.
I'd guess at low stocking levels for fish, and choose your fish carefully nothing to messy for bioload, and if you are going to have some sort of constant food source like shrimp nothing thats to good at hunting them down, and either a lot of plants or some big well established ones, (my tank had two huge amazon swords thats roots covered most of the bottom of the tank, and a lot of java fern, I'm guessing between them they filter out a lot of tye nitrates etc).
 

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Look in my signature for "Planted Golden barb tank - 1st post!" around the end of the that thread, on the 2nd page, i made a attempt of a self sufficient tank. with only MTS and blyxa being living things in the bowl.

For a 5 feet tank, i would suggest only planting foreground plants e.g hair grass/echinodorus tenellus through the whole tank - iwagumi style and throw in some non-invasive plants like jave fern/anubias or echinodorus martii/rubin and the like. lotus will grow to the top, and stem plants will be quite messy after a while so try not to choose them. As for fauna, get something small, that breeds and that eats algae e.g. shrimp, mollies. Godspeed! make sure u post some pics when u are done.
 

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I would definitely look into the El Natural system for the tank setup, as it already meets some of your criteria. infrequent WC and low maintenance.

Brian
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
have been doing some research...bouncing ideas off people...I've come to 2 realisation... harnessing algae's ability to grow is essential...and a plant that interacts with the air above the water may provide another channel for food to enter the tank's cycle...

generally, the plans pretty fuzzy. General cycle: Substrate to algae, algae to algae eater then to fish, fish craps goes to plants. The problem I have here is that I'd rather have some organism feeding off plants instead. But no plant grows fast enough without depleting the substrate...well...the only thing I know that spawns fast is guppies. hmmmm....

As a general direction, the tank would contain tetras, probably neons/cardinals, saiz factor, and maybe a betta or albino peacock cichlid just to get the tetras to school...

Anybody with a good idea for plants!!
p.s. thank God I didn't straight away started experimenting...discussing seems to be the smartest thing I've done so far in my "aqua"-life....
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Just read some where that brine shrimps can breed every 4 days producing up to 300 of its own every once...hmmm...but the problem is that saltwater is recommended...is it possible in creating a section of the tank that allows the brine shrimps to hatch....since saltwater is denser and tends to resis movements...anybody know whether common aquarium salt for tropical tanks are also suitable?...brine shrimp eat micro-algae!! yay!!
 

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Instead of Brine Shrimp, why not put Daphnia in a section of the tank with a fine screen to keep the fish out of the daphnia section. If it was fine enough you may even stop the large Daphnia getting out of the section too and ensure you always have a breeding population there, just the young, small ones would get through to the fish. The only problem is they may not eat benthic algae but need free-swiming algae. I think cyclops eat algae on plants and decor though and you often get them along with Daphnia too.

I think you'd struggle to produce enough food to feed a shoal of tetras unless you have a lot of breeding guppies and they will need a lot of food too. I think you may be better with just algae eaters that will live a long while rather than ones that may breed lots. You may end up with a brood of fish where a majority of the brood starve to death, or they barely survive.

If you added duckweed and a fish that eats it, you may have enough plant growth to feed a small herbivore.
 

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I have several self-supporting tanks where I don't even need to feed the fish.

When creating an ecosystem you need a source of constant nutrients to fuel the plants and micro algae and light. From there on its basically a matter of adding the right number (and kind) of fish for the amount of food that is produced by the tank.

What I did:
For my 125g tank, I added an inch and a half of low-nutrient topping soil with a 1-1.5" thick cap of blasting sand (in retrospect I would have used something else since I think my batch is leaching chemicals into the water) for the nutrient base. From there I added 4x96w of PC lighting (set on a timer 8 hrs continual light).

This soil layer was chosen because it will hold nutrients for several years that the plants can use without having to add dry compound fertilizers. Additionally the sand cap prevents too many nutrients (primarily NH4) from leaching out into the water column - limiting algae growth.

I have a 15# CO2 cylinder attached to an in-line CO2 reactor (i chose this one over the other kinds because it needs the least cleaning/maintenance of the diffusers/reactors while still having a high rate of efficiency). The CO2 is imperative IMO, and if you skimp on it your plants will have a more difficult time getting established and growing leading to algae problems. 15# will probably last 1-2 years at 4 bubbles/sec.

From there I stocked the tank heavily with wood and stem plants, different foreground plants and lots of slow growing java/anubias. I think a good fast growing foreground plant like glosso (or dense one like HC) is pretty important to this kind of tank since it will soak up nutrients from the substrate as they leach into the water preventing excess in the water column.

As for fish... If you don't plan on feeding the fish at all, I would suggest small fish like live bearers or
kribs/apistos and of course any sort of algae eater you like (ottos/bristlenose are my favorites). The live bearers will regulate their own populations depending on the food in the tank so you won't have to feel bad about not feeding them. Shrimp are also an excellent choice, particularly bamboo shrimp since a soil tank has plenty of microscopic partials of debris that they can feed on.

I wouldn't skimp on the filters though, not that you need them to scrub the water with carbon, but you will need to circulate the water so it doesn't become stagnant and cause problems.

Also MTS are vital for a soil tank as they turn over the soil and keep it oxygenated.

So far my tank has been running wonderfully without any sort of maintenance other than topping up the water and trimming for the past year.

Another beautiful thing about this sort of self-sufficient tank is that you won't have to do frequent water changes since not that many nutrients get leached into the water/any that are are sucked up by the anubias/java fern on the wood. Organic build up is eaten by the bamboo shrimp and guppies off the surface of the water and recycled so that it doesn't have a chance to build up that much.

As a side note: This sort of system also works w/ non-soil tanks, but you need auto-dosers and a lower fish load.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
After much consideration and much teasing by fellow aquarist, I think trying to maintain to different water for brine shrimp, will result in a brakish. Which is not what I want. hmmm...plus brine shrimp can only live max 6 hours in fresh water...so that sort of defeats the idea....and water circulation would be a problem...but I do want to know...is water circulation crucial? if fish go all over the tank...then circulation generated by swimming fish is no problem right?

to ed seeley: I read up on daphnia...seems that they only reproduce during spring...although in freshwater...it's practically spring everyday...but their cycle would be disrupted...the question is would they continue spawning...as for cyclops...I can't find much of anything on the breeding of cyclops...although one site recommends rotten stuff like leaves which speeds up growth...

to zapins: you said that you'd use something else as substrate...what is it? is MTS = Malaysian Trumpet Snail? I live in Malaysia...so...I might try to look for it...is aeration of the substrate really that crucial?... 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...

I just ghost shrimp...someone told me that they are suppose to eat algae...so testing erm now...I'm going to my firends place this Monday I think...he has a self-sufficient tank...he said he's never fed the fish...but only added treated water...so I'm gonna document my trip there...and try to find the secret to that tank...dang I've a test coming in weeks time...
 

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

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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
 

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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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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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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Went to my friends place to check out his tank... about 5x2x3 feet... here are the pics:

http://picasaweb.google.com/limchengyee/Misc/photo#5044321213578539298
http://picasaweb.google.com/limchengyee/Misc/photo#5044321651665203506
http://picasaweb.google.com/limchengyee/Misc/photo#5044321986672652610

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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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/artigos/ADA_2007/01g/01g (4).jpg

Top:
http://www.xylema.net/images/stories/artigos/ADA_2007/01g/01g (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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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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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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