Defeating Dino's by controlling the fate of Iron

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Mark

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I'm just going to throw this out there. First off, I'm not a microbiologist(my bachelor degree in environmental biology doesn't mean anything). I'm going off anecdotal evidence, and it should not be treated as tested and factual.

I've been dealing with a persistent Dino strain in two tanks for over a year. They go "away" every time, but eventually something triggers another outbreak. My tanks were started with live sand and live rock from Tampa Bay(not dead sterile rock). My large reef runs a UV, which does help control them to some degree. But their reappearance means UV is merely a control, not an eliminator. In my 25 years of reefkeeping, I've not seen anything like it. I've regarded Dino's alongside Diatoms, as just part of the initial ugly phase. And that they usually subside as algal succession occurs. I've been wondering why Dino's are suddenly more persistent in my tanks and for other hobbyists.

I think iron competition and limitation can play a role in Dinoflagellate control. Below are the scenarios. Keep in mind, there are so many other factors in play, but I do feel nutrients adjust the rules of the game and give one team a competitive advantage over another. Lighting/grazers/flow/etc are all pieces of the puzzle of course.

Scenario 1: Plenty of iron, but low nitrates/phosphates = Dinoflagellates have the advantage
Scenario 2: Plenty of iron, and high nitrates/phosphates = green algae have the advantage
Scenario 3: Low iron, and low nitrates/phosphates = hopefully some green algae have the advantage
Scenario 4: Low iron and low nitrates, but high phosphates = Nitrogen fixing Cyano have the advantage

The use of GFO, lanthanum, carbon dosing, dead rock have increased in the hobby in recent years. I think Scenario 1 is a lot more common these days.

Red Tide is a dinoflagellate, and there have been studies linking spikes in iron to red tide events.
  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01313701
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022098104004848
  3. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.00118/full

My observations:
  1. Like others, I get a dino explosion after each water change. I think this is due to nutrient reduction and replenishment of trace elements like iron. In a dirty tank without water changes, trace elements like iron can deplete as more complex micro and macroalgae compete for what is there. Reducing phosphate and nitrates limits macro and turf algae, and gives Dino's a competitive advantage for iron.... Scenario 1.
  2. When I and others have added GFO to a tank, we also see a recurrence of Dino's. Again, I think this temporarily causes an increase in iron availability and cuts down phosphates which inhibits turf/macro algae.... Scenario 1.
  3. Many folks have observed that adding a refugium with Chaeto will make the Dino's disappear. Green macro algae will effectively outcompete for iron, if the conditions are right.... like in Scenario 2.
  4. Dosing nitrates seems to help. I think this just stimulates the growth of microalgae, which in turn competes for iron. As green algae starts to appear, dino's lose out. Dosing helps a tank shift from Scenario 1 to Scenario 2.
  5. Several days of darkness cures dino blooms for some, and merely pauses it for others. I think it's an effective way of shifting the equilibrium to more complex algae that can sustain without light for longer. I think the breakdown of dino's helps a tank shift from Scenario 1 to Scenario 2, even if temporarily.
  6. People report sterile tanks and tanks with dead starter rock tend to get Dino's more often(though my tank defies that logic). Real live rock bring with it more complex micro and macroalgae and other organisms that benefit from available iron.
  7. Another recommended treatment is raising pH with kalk or other means. Increasing pH impacts uptake of Iron. In photosynthesis, they refer to this as “lime induced chlorosis”. I think raising pH works because you impact the availability of iron.
So what to do? Iron is needed by all photosynthetic life. Removing it isn't the answer, but limiting it probably helps. And shifting your environment to favor turf and or macroalgae growth makes sense. It's true that folks dose iron to stimulate macroalgae growth, but I think that works so long as the macroalgae hold the competitive advantage.
  • If you have room to grow some chaeto, do so. If you can't accomodate a fuge or turf scrubber, then look at enriching your nitrates/phosphates by dosing or reducing water changes. Nutrients may be so low, that they end up being the limiting resource preventing turf algae in your display from competing for trace elements like iron against Dino's. Algae in a reef tank is a fact of life, and it's easier to battle green algae with grazers.
  • If you're running GFO, remove it. Your hindering other algae from competing with Dino's and it may be a source of iron when fresh or degraded.
  • Check your iron levels, and look at eliminating sources of it. While it's a needed trace element, there can also be too much of a good thing. Check your magnets, any metal sources. Try running an absorption media like Metasorb.
So what's the deal with my tanks? Why do I think I have problems with Dino's?
  1. My large tank runs a fuge with Chaeto. The chaeto grew like crazy under a marginal led. When the Chaeto was growing well, dino's went "dormant". Then I had a salinity spike, which caused some deaths in the tank. The disruption stimulated a Cyano outbreak which choked out the chaeto. Next thing you know, Dino outbreak.
  2. I run chemipure, which is carbon/gfo mix. When I would replace it, I'd get a small dino outbreak. If I replaced with regular carbon, I wouldn't get a Dino outbreak.
  3. I found one my float switch magnets had rusted through the plastic.. metals, including iron were leaching.
  4. I live in GA, and we have had a ton of rain. Our soil is rich in iron, red clay. All the rain means more runoff. I'm way overdue for overhauling my RO/DI.
My plan of action?
  1. Replace my RO filters for top off, and avoid water changes.
  2. Run CuLater, which is same as Metasorb, while doing a 3 day blackout. The hope is that the media absorbs excess iron as the Dino's breakdown.
  3. After the blackout, replenish the refugium with fresh macroalgae in my larger reef.
  4. Stop using GFO in any capacity.

Let's see what happens... Again, I'm just tinkering here. I could be way off base. I'd like to get to a point again, where I can do a water change without a Dino bloom. Would love to hear from others who have considered the iron angle.
 
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Fritz

Maokin

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Amazing details here. Thanks for sharing! I have discovered that I have high iron and have recently seen a Dino outbreak starting. I still have not discovered the source of high iron but the two together match your post. What has your luck been with beating them? I am getting a diamond goby to move my sand more I also have a bottle of Tim's waste away and might try a black out period.

Here are some of my recent Icp test.

Icp

Ndoc
 

Turtlesteve

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Good post. My experience is reasonably consistent with this. In general I have found that higher P favors green algae, which is good, because it can be kept in check with snails.

Right now I am trying to run with P in excess and lower N. I have small amounts of hair algae and cyano and lots of diatoms and coralline. No trace of dino’s. When I ran very low P and moderate NO3 I had dino’s.
 

Maokin

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@Mark what would you consider high and low no3 and po4 numbers? No one seems to agree what is high or low for nutrients so would be nice to clarify. My tank has been running at around 12-16ppm no3 and .1-.2 po4. To me I would consider that high. Initially I was targeting 5ppm for no3 and .05 po4.
 
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Amazing details here. Thanks for sharing! I have discovered that I have high iron and have recently seen a Dino outbreak starting. I still have not discovered the source of high iron but the two together match your post. What has your luck been with beating them?

For me, the Dino's gave up a few weeks after my post. I would have liked to have done an experimental approach and isolated each change I made to determine what helped. But I was more interested in getting things back on track, so I took the synergistic approach. I think iron limitation helped. I did not do the blackout. The other steps I mentioned I did do(metal absorption/macroalgae refresh/remove GFO).

@Mark what would you consider high and low no3 and po4 numbers? No one seems to agree what is high or low for nutrients so would be nice to clarify. My tank has been running at around 12-16ppm no3 and .1-.2 po4. To me I would consider that high. Initially I was targeting 5ppm for no3 and .05 po4.

I think high/low depends on tank. Are you saying that you have Dino's with those values? I would hope with that level of NO3, you wouldn't see Dino's or Cyano.
 

Maokin

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For me, the Dino's gave up a few weeks after my post. I would have liked to have done an experimental approach and isolated each change I made to determine what helped. But I was more interested in getting things back on track, so I took the synergistic approach. I think iron limitation helped. I did not do the blackout. The other steps I mentioned I did do(metal absorption/macroalgae refresh/remove GFO).



I think high/low depends on tank. Are you saying that you have Dino's with those values? I would hope with that level of NO3, you wouldn't see Dino's or Cyano.
Thanks for the details. It would seem i have both Cyano and dino right now. Nutrients are high but the corals seem to love it from SPS to LPS and softies. I might try some metal absorption media if I dont see any improvement. Until i found your article I wasn't thinking much of the high Iron as some people dos it and most say it will go down on it's own.
 

waleedreef

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i used to have cyano and i removed it by chime clean and then i got Dino and i removed by Dino x. But now I have cyano and I put chaeto to fight each other.
 
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Mark

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Here's a thread by DNA on another forum, where he came to the same conclusion about iron before I did. Check out the several posts he made:

Also if you search cuprisorb and Dino on this forum and others, you'll see some other posts about folks having similar results. For me, I think it was a source water issue as well. The DI cartridge on my RODI was old, and we had a ton of rain this winter. Anyone from Georgia knows our soil is iron rich red clay. I feel that replacing the DI on my RODI and running cuprisorb helped. It wasn't overnight, it took a few weeks.

Before the cartridge change, any water changes I did would cause a Dino outbreak 24 hrs later. Since making the cartridge change, I can do large water changes without a sign of Dino's.
 
Fritz

taricha

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I think iron competition and limitation can play a role in Dinoflagellate control.
Well done. I agree and think you laid out the case better than I could.
I found this part of your first linked article especially interesting...

Effects of Fe depletion were consistent with this element's essential role in the biosynthesis of chl a and components of the photosynthetic electron transport (PET) system, and also in NO3 utilization. Fe:N ratios were larger (1.5-fold) for iron-deficient NO3-grown than NH4-grown cells, likely reflecting the Fe content of NO3 assimilatory enzymes [nitrate (NR) and nitrite (NiR) reductase] and of electron transport components needed to provide reductant, coupled with a diminished capacity of — Fe/NO3 cells to acquire and assimilate nitrogen. .... Utilization of nitrate by NO3-grown cells was inhibited sufficiently by Fe depletion to yield symptoms bordering on N deficiency.

In other words, NO3 is an especially hard form of N to use if Fe is severely limiting.

You aren't the only one to think this is an important mechanism. Randy's also said similar.
high pH was a treatment for dinos in the old days. I just tried to explain why it might work.

pH changes might also alter the bioavailability of some trace metals such as iron. I think trace elements might be why dinos lose out in competition to other organisms when nutrients are high.

I'll add this out-of-context Randy quote too. It touches on the additional effect that oxidizers may be effective by making trace element Fe less bioavailable.
If this method works to deter dinos, one possible mechanism, IMO, is making a trace metal limiting for the dinos. I think that mechanism is a possibility for all methods of Dino treatment that I am aware of (such as ensuring nutrients are not too low, allowing the growth of competitors).

In this case, both bacterial growth (via consumption of the trace element) and hydrogen peroxide addition (via oxidation of the trace element to a less soluble form, such as ferrous to ferric iron) can have that effect.

The case for Iron is circumstantial (because tests for it are near-useless) but it's pretty strong, IMO.
Here's what I said about it a while back.
On the issue of "Trace element" limitation with Dinos.... a while back, I looked through bunches of reports (and lots of triton tests) of users with dinos that the population would plateau, and then with the addition of something - would explode again. This was repeatable in these systems - and seems a clear sign of some sort of nutrient limitation.
Maybe I missed something, but here are the big takeaways I got from hunting through bunches of these in search of the "trace element" in question:
1 - It was never anything that showed up very often on a triton test (this could mean it was organics/vitamins, or trace elements still bio-available at levels below test sensitivities.)
2 - The same result was being achieved in different systems, when sometimes what was added in one system had nothing in common with what was added in another. Different nutrients were being limited.
3 - In at least some systems, it was Iron.
4 - some interesting additives (to me) that have caused this in people's systems: Iron additive, Water Changes, Trace Element mix, feeding dried Nori especially Red Sea Veggies (Palmaria palmata), Amino Acids (AcroPower).
5 - it was never simple NO3 or PO4
 
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