Urea and algae turf scrubbers

FuzzySPS

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Been told (and am assuming it to be true for now) that urea is a key component in getting an algae turf scrubber growing algae (also told ghost feeding in and of itself won’t do the trick) in addition, of course, to other factors such as light spectrum, duration, etc.

Am wondering how, using urea, if a bottled product even exists, to dose it to make algae growth happen because:

1. I will be cycling a brand new tank with live rock, sand and Dr. Tim’s with lights out
2. I’d like to remain lights out in the display and have bacteria continue to colonize post cycle to become better established
3. Want to remain fishless (the normal urea source) for some number of months until after algae growth is consistent in the scrubber hoping that once lights go on in the display slowly and gradually is the plan (and predominantly blue for a while), the scrubber will out compete algae in the display tank

My objective is to try and minimize or, in a perfect world, eliminate the dreaded new tank algae bloom. Some say it’s inevitable and others have been able to achieve it. Perhaps my “scheme” is ill-advised but would nonetheless love to know how to get algae growth in the scrubber in the absence of livestock.

Doc Farley, in particular...would love your perspective as always.
 
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Randy Holmes-Farley

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I've never seen (or looked for ) evidence that turf algae can use urea (fish mostly excrete ammonia), but "required" seems quite a stretch.

Seachem Flourish Nitrogen contains urea:

 

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I've started 4 different tanks using ATS and never heard of this. Also, I've been using ATS since ~2004 on reef tanks. To start a new tank I just stuck in a piece of raw shrimp for a week. The ATS will naturally grow as you populate the tank with animals and start feeding.
 

Dan_P

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Been told (and am assuming it to be true for now) that urea is a key component in getting an algae turf scrubber growing algae (also told ghost feeding in and of itself won’t do the trick) in addition, of course, to other factors such as light spectrum, duration, etc.

Am wondering how, using urea, if a bottled product even exists, to dose it to make algae growth happen because:

1. I will be cycling a brand new tank with live rock, sand and Dr. Tim’s with lights out
2. I’d like to remain lights out in the display and have bacteria continue to colonize post cycle to become better established
3. Want to remain fishless (the normal urea source) for some number of months until after algae growth is consistent in the scrubber hoping that once lights go on in the display slowly and gradually is the plan (and predominantly blue for a while), the scrubber will out compete algae in the display tank

My objective is to try and minimize or, in a perfect world, eliminate the dreaded new tank algae bloom. Some say it’s inevitable and others have been able to achieve it. Perhaps my “scheme” is ill-advised but would nonetheless love to know how to get algae growth in the scrubber in the absence of livestock.

Doc Farley, in particular...would love your perspective as always.
Hey, interesting ideas here.

The development of biofilms happens in all aquaria. When there is no light the biofilms are bacterial but when illuminated, they are algal. There is no escaping this.

The algal species that colonize bacterial biofilms are the ones that exist in the water column and these organisms are in the water because they come attached to whatever livestock is added to the aquarium. Your system will always have diatoms, dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria to colonize biofilms. A natural progression of algal biofilm development is bacteria-diatom-cyanobacteria. When growing biofilms, I have observed the dinoflagellates colonize the biofilms roughly the same time as cyanobacteria.

I have discussed this topic offline with @taricha many times. He wondered whether allowing the bacterial biofilm to age longer (don’t turn on lights for a long time in a new system) might alter the succession of species in the developing algal biofilm or at least prevent the biofilm from stalling at the diatom or cyanobacteria stage. Do the experiment and let us know.

As for feeding your algae scrubber with urea, you need algae first, which new systems do not have and won’t have until stocking occurs. But if you were to somehow create an algae scrubber before the new system was up and running, feeding it with ammonia and phosphate would be sufficient along with regular water changes to replenish micronutrients.
 

taricha

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Here's data plot (fig from a Nature article) on a macroalgae uptake rate of various N sources.
Ammonia > Nitrate >> urea = amino
The macroalgae was ulva. Some ulva are common components of a scrubber.
So you won't need urea. Inorganic N are fine: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate etc.
 
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FuzzySPS

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@taricha...thanks for your reply and please excuse my complete ineptitude regarding anything related to biology or chemistry but...

if I were to attempt to “fire up” an ATS in advance of the display tank’s arrival in, say, a tub of circulated and heated salt water and somehow found some Ulva to rub across the ATS screen are there any commercially available products that you can think of that contain the inorganic nitrogen sources you recommend that I could “dose”, i.e., something a dim-witted layman (me) could easily get their hands on?
 

taricha

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My objective is to try and minimize or, in a perfect world, eliminate the dreaded new tank algae bloom. Some say it’s inevitable and others have been able to achieve it. Perhaps my “scheme” is ill-advised but would nonetheless love to know how to get algae growth in the scrubber in the absence of livestock.

I have discussed this topic offline with @taricha many times. He wondered whether allowing the bacterial biofilm to age longer (don’t turn on lights for a long time in a new system) might alter the succession of species in the developing algal biofilm or at least prevent the biofilm from stalling at the diatom or cyanobacteria stage. Do the experiment and let us know.
FuzzySps, check this article from AquaBiomics. It's the most detailed (and maybe most optimistic) on the question...

Establishing a Healthy Microbiome in a New Aquarium Using Live Rock
be sure to make it down to figure 10 and 11 to see the night and day difference between the quality live rock and the others.

the scheme was approximately
Live rock->consistent 1ppm level in dark -> time: at least 4 weeks - see fig 6, and maybe as much as 10 weeks (bummer).
Two and a half months after starting the tanks, I turned on the lights to allow algal growth. Two weeks later (at 3 months) I added a small number of identical livestock to each tank

If I were adapting it to your plan, I'd bring on the scrubber well after the nitrification had been established, and well before the lights to the main system.

It's possible that the timeline can be significantly advanced by bottle bacteria, but the question then is whether nitrification maturity is really the only important bacterial maturity or if the full microbiome of the live rock is more important to the algae prevention question.
This is unknown as far as I can figure.
 

taricha

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@taricha...thanks for your reply and please excuse my complete ineptitude regarding anything related to biology or chemistry but...

if I were to attempt to “fire up” an ATS in advance of the display tank’s arrival in, say, a tub of circulated and heated salt water and somehow found some Ulva to rub across the ATS screen are there any commercially available products that you can think of that contain the inorganic nitrogen sources you recommend that I could “dose”, i.e., something a dim-witted layman (me) could easily get their hands on?

Ammonia drops for cycling will do to feed the scrubber too. Check PO4 too, other things ought to be well managed by salt mix in water changes.

It's an ambitious project. (but I'd wager it'll work.)
 
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FuzzySPS

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Excellent. Your last two paragraphs summarize beautifully and will keep me from going off on a wild goose chase into the unknown that may create more headaches than it solves.

I think my fear of a new tank algae bloom is a bit irrational but would nonetheless be thrilled to avoid it.

Many thanks for your time and input.
 
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FuzzySPS

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Ammonia drops for cycling will do to feed the scrubber too. Check PO4 too, other things ought to be well managed by salt mix in water changes.

It's an ambitious project. (but I'd wager it'll work.)
Weighing your and Dan_P’s input, perhaps the simplest approach is to cycle with lights out, add fish with only (very) dimly lit blues (total darkness for a prolonged period with livestock borders on cruelty I would think) thereby hoping to stave off a display tank bloom yet fostering algae growth in the scrubber at the same time such that I can eventually turn on whites hoping the scrubber algae will be established enough to prevail in the fight with display tank algae hoping to grab a foothold. Easier to attempt and anything beyond that is likely beyond my ability and understanding in any event. All that would be required beyond normal start up husbandry would be an extra dose of patience.
 
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Jon_W79

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I think that growing the algae with no fish would be more complicated than having a cycled tank and dosing ammonium and phosphate, and doing water changes. I think it also would be a good idea to try dosing organic fulvic acid. It is definitely beneficial to at least some algae and bacteria.
 
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FuzzySPS

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Just enough post cycle in a new tank to get algae growing in the ATS to win the war against display tank algae, yes. That is one of an ATS’s primary benefits (in a new or established tank) in addition to natural nitrate and phosphate export (among a host of other benefits) as I understand it and has been reported by many ATS users.
 

taricha

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Weighing your and Dan_P’s input, perhaps the simplest approach is to cycle with lights out, add fish with only (very) dimly lit blues (total darkness for a prolonged period with livestock borders on cruelty I would think) thereby hoping to stave off a display tank bloom yet fostering algae growth in the scrubber at the same time such that I can eventually turn on whites hoping the scrubber algae will be established enough to prevail in the fight with display tank algae hoping to grab a foothold.
Really should not need fish to get a scubber going. But if you just want fish before scrubber gets established, that's fine.
Fish can be totally fine with much lower light than reef lighting, you are correct in that.
 

Garf

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Just enough post cycle in a new tank to get algae growing in the ATS to win the war against display tank algae, yes. That is one of an ATS’s primary benefits (in a new or established tank) in addition to natural nitrate and phosphate export (among a host of other benefits) as I understand it and has been reported by many ATS users.
Algae pushed to those levels release exudates as the algal quality diminishes. Herbivores in the system can suffer as a result from inadequate food sources (pods etc). These exudates contain sugars and aminos which in turn could feed undesirables, especially in systems limited by inorganic nutrients as they feed heterotrophs initially. They can also release reactive oxygen species which could deplete iron and interfere with other photosynthetic organisms. There were plenty of cases of “clamped” corals back in the day but these are not referenced so now folks don’t even know they existed.

The main benefits of an ATS is to limit the amount of N & P in the system, not strip it to prevent photosynthesis, although most don’t know or at least never mention it.

Scrubbers should have the lighting tweaked to maintain a minimum N & P. The nutrient stripping idea to remove display algae was touted years ago, and just as wrong now as it was then.

Just a friendly warning, that’s all. I have nothing to gain. I would also admit that the deeper you look into this subject, the less you know is absolutely correct.
 

taricha

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Algae pushed to those levels release exudates as the algal quality diminishes. ...
These exudates contain sugars and aminos which in turn could feed undesirables, especially in systems limited by inorganic nutrients as they feed heterotrophs initially. ...

The main benefits of an ATS is to limit the amount of N & P in the system, not strip it to prevent photosynthesis, although most don’t know or at least never mention it.
This is a really good point. @Dan_P has been talking me into this mechanism as a cause of a lot of hobby nuisance issues.
"stressed algae causes (insert nuisance)" is a far better explanatory framework than "low nutrients causes (insert nuisance)"

Garf, if you'd like to go into more detail or point to some reading, that'd be great.
 

Dan_P

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Algae pushed to those levels release exudates as the algal quality diminishes. Herbivores in the system can suffer as a result from inadequate food sources (pods etc). These exudates contain sugars and aminos which in turn could feed undesirables, especially in systems limited by inorganic nutrients as they feed heterotrophs initially. They can also release reactive oxygen species which could deplete iron and interfere with other photosynthetic organisms. There were plenty of cases of “clamped” corals back in the day but these are not referenced so now folks don’t even know they existed.

The main benefits of an ATS is to limit the amount of N & P in the system, not strip it to prevent photosynthesis, although most don’t know or at least never mention it.

Scrubbers should have the lighting tweaked to maintain a minimum N & P. The nutrient stripping idea to remove display algae was touted years ago, and just as wrong now as it was then.

Just a friendly warning, that’s all. I have nothing to gain. I would also admit that the deeper you look into this subject, the less you know is absolutely correct.
Great summary on how algae can provide nutrients to a system. I would add this applies to both micro and macro algae. The potential importance of this is that all illuminated systems have algal biofilms. Whether you see algae or not, there is algal photosynthesis going on, and you might say, cryptically feeding your system and nuisance microorganisms.

@taricha and I have discussed how GHA accumulates particulate matter that seems to feed nuisance organisms. Likewise, algal biofilms can become nutrient depots and maybe, enabling nuisance organism growth.
 

Shooter6

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Hey, interesting ideas here.

The development of biofilms happens in all aquaria. When there is no light the biofilms are bacterial but when illuminated, they are algal. There is no escaping this.

The algal species that colonize bacterial biofilms are the ones that exist in the water column and these organisms are in the water because they come attached to whatever livestock is added to the aquarium. Your system will always have diatoms, dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria to colonize biofilms. A natural progression of algal biofilm development is bacteria-diatom-cyanobacteria. When growing biofilms, I have observed the dinoflagellates colonize the biofilms roughly the same time as cyanobacteria.

I have discussed this topic offline with @taricha many times. He wondered whether allowing the bacterial biofilm to age longer (don’t turn on lights for a long time in a new system) might alter the succession of species in the developing algal biofilm or at least prevent the biofilm from stalling at the diatom or cyanobacteria stage. Do the experiment and let us know.

As for feeding your algae scrubber with urea, you need algae first, which new systems do not have and won’t have until stocking occurs. But if you were to somehow create an algae scrubber before the new system was up and running, feeding it with ammonia and phosphate would be sufficient along with regular water changes to replenish micronutrients.
I disagree about the algae growth.
If you put an algae scrubber on a new tank, with zero livestock introduced and dose nitrates, nutrients, the turf scrubber will grow algae,
You can grow algae in a vast on a window sill lit by sunlight, even with a lid on it.
 
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