Biological Filtration Explained
In any ecosystem, if the inhabitants are to survive, poisonous nitrogen compounds must be brought down to tolerable levels. Fortunately, mother nature provides several types of bacteria to break down the waste into less toxic compounds.
The fish population a lake can support is proportional to the amount of waste the ecosystem can handle. The same rule apply in our tank. Unfortunately, our small aquarium can’t handle much waste because bacteria do not have enough room to form colonies. The purpose of filtration is to provide additional surface for the bacteria to form colonies. This way, more bacteria can establish in our system and more waste can be break down.
It works basically like this:
1. Waste quickly produce ammonia (toxic)
2. The bacteria use ammonia (toxic) and oxygen to produce nitrite (toxic), water, and some kind of energy. NH3 + O2 = NO2 + H2O + energy
3. A second kind of bacteria take over and use nitrite (toxic) and oxygen to produce nitrate (not so toxic) and energy. NO2 + O2 = NO3 + energy
Without those bacteria, ammonia would simply build up and kill the fish. Instead, we went from a toxic compond (ammonia) to a not so toxic compond (nitrate). This is what we call the Nitrogen Cycle.
There are several factors which limit the amount of bacteria that can live in an aquarium, lake or river:
1. The amount of available food (fish waste, leftover food, decaying plants, etc ).
2. The amount of accessible oxygen.
3. The total surface platforms to form colonies.
4. Water temperature.
5. pH range.
Biological filtration media offer the surface platform where bacteria can establish colonies. With suffisent bilogical filtration, we reduce the risk of ammonia contamination, algae, white water problems, fish lost and many others. Actually, I believe that most problems aquarist have to deal with could be avoid if only the biological filtration was suffisent to insure a strong and stable nitrogen cycle.
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