Is lack of biodiversity a problem?

HumbleFish

Dr. Fish
Premium Member
I setup my first true reef tank sometime in the 1980s, and used all live rock to do it. (We didn't even realize back then that "dry rock" was an option.) Anyway, I put the LR in my tank, and of course there was die-off, but I think it cured in a few weeks. I knew it was safe to add fish/corals once the water completely cleared, and I could see all the little critters emerging from the rocks: Tiny starfish, amphipods, chitons, isopods, nudibranchs, spaghetti worms, bristle worms, stomatella snails, etc. etc. I also knew the rock contained tons of microfauna that I couldn't see, but I did notice tiny bivalves, bryozoan, sponges, cucumbers, feather dusters, hydroids, barnacles, tunicates, etc. growing all over the rocks.

I'm sure I also got some bad hitchhikers in the live rock, but I don't seem to remember those. (I would have definitely remembered a mantis shrimp.) But guess what else I don't remember? HAVING TO GO THROUGH THE UGLIES!!! In fact, the first time I ever saw diatoms & dinos was after setting up a tank using all dry rock. I also never quarantined back in the day, and other than Ich coming & going I never really had any fish disease problems. Hmmmm. Could some of these little critters actually be predators of tomonts and microscopic parasites in general?

I once attended a presentation by Tony Vargas (author of "The Coral Reef Aquarium") where he discussed the "European way" of setting up a tank. He uses all live rock, but sets it out of water (on cardboard) for a few hours so all of the "bad hitchhikers" crawl out. The rock is then placed in the aquarium, but is just left to sit & circulate for 3-4 months before adding any fish or corals. (No lights.) You still have to ghost feed, but the reasoning is that this time allows all the little critters/microfauna living in the rocks to propagate without being eaten by the fish. So when you finally do flip on the lights and start adding livestock, this mass biodiversity takes care of many of the problems (like nuisance algae) we commonly encounter in the first year a tank is setup. The tank is already stable, and you don't get "the uglies" because the tiny animals prevent nutrients from ever building up in the first place. And we all know getting a tank off to a good start is one way to ensure it's long term success. I've never tried this approach myself, but it makes all the sense in the world to me. :)

So how does a sterile tank with dry rock ever achieve biodiversity? I suppose some gets added every time we add chaeto or a coral frag (but only whatever the coral dip doesn't kill). But it takes YEARS to build up to a meaningful level doing it this way. Using all live rock isn't considered practical/environmentally friendly these days (plus the added cost), so what can you do to add biodiversity to your tank? I can think of a few options:

1. Buy some live rock (or even just 1 piece) to mix in with your dry rock. (I'm not saying to buy from here, but this is what I'm talking about: https://gulfliverock.com/premium-deco-live-rock)
2. Buy some mature rock, macroalgae and/or sand from another hobbyist with a healthy, established aquarium.
3. Buy a "reef pack" to add diversity and/or macroalgae from a trusted source. Basically, look for critters labeled here as good: https://www.lionfishlair.com/hitchhikers-guide/

Ideally, you would want to add any of the above while still cycling (or at least 6 weeks before adding fish due to parasite tomonts). Fortunately, most of the aforementioned critters are tolerant of ammonia. Even if all you can get is 1 or 2 small rocks, the biodiversity should quickly propagate to the rest of the tank.
 

HumbleFish

Dr. Fish
Premium Member
Back before reefs, we used dead coral skeletons as decorations for fish only tanks (photos below). Nuisance algae would grow like crazy BUT we could do "coral changes" by swapping out the decorations with a second set of corals that had been bleached. Keeping everything nice & white. ;)

I remember the first time I setup a reef using all live rock. The rock stayed clean and algae didn't grow amuck like before. Everything stayed in balance. I kinda didn't know what to do. And over the years I've always made it a habit to add at least one piece of live rock, even when using all dry rock to setup an aquarium (video at bottom).

1970s_081.jpg


1980s_11.jpg


https://youtu.be/XzbWSMMZUHU
 

Michael Hoaster

Registered Seaweedist
Premium Member
Thanks for posting this HumbleFish! You can buy as little as ten pounds of farmed Florida live rock from gulfliverock.com. Great, eco-friendly rock, with tons of diversity. Shipping included! As long as this stuff is available (and it has been for decades), I will never use dry rock.

Diversity is key!
 

ThRoewer

New member
I remember, when I started in the late 70s, there were still those bleached coral tanks around but at the same time there were already reef tanks with live rocks and even corals.
I only started to have success once I added live rock to my tanks.

Cryptocaryon, Amyloodinium, and most of the other fish parasites are food for filter feeders, rotifers, pods, corals,... during their off-fish stages. So if you have enough of those predators and enough diversity of them, many of those fish parasites will not reach a lethal level and the fish will be able to build up enough immunity against them to live with them.
The problem is to maintain the diversity in a closed system. Some species will always do better than others and ultimately you will end up with low diversity or even a monoculture.

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Misled

RC Mod
Staff member
RC Mod
These two posts are from my build thread.

I have been shipping live rock going on 40 years now.....I have seen the industry evolve, change, morph and then change again.

When we were collecting rock from the ocean in the early 1980's it was the only game in town. Then the ban on live rock from state and federal waters went into place.

A few of us went the aquaculture route but there simply was not enough of cultured live rock to fit the void in the industry that was suffering from not enough rock.

This created a demand for more rock which resulted in all the man made/manufactured dry live rock. The marketplace quickly began filling with all types of artificial dry rock, as there was not enough 'real' live rock to fill the demand.

The Dry dead rock industry blossomed as folks had to use something in their reef tanks, and the result was many reefers went with it as they simply could not get 'real' live rock.

But now most folks have figured out that dry/dead rock presented a lot of problems when starting and trying to get a new tank established. The algae problems developed and the tanks took forever to come around to a point where they were successful in keeping stock alive.

And the industry is shifting again as I get daily calls from folks really tired of the dry rock look, and it's results. Reefers are reverting to real live rock again as it will provide a biologically stable tank with diversity that will never happen with dry rock. I have had many folks throw in the towel, ditch the dry rock and go with 'real' live rock again. Especially the hard coral folks who have reported that after restocking with 'real' live rock, not only did their coals do much better, their tanks are actually alive now.

So....another morph in the industry, evolving to the 'real' thing again and happy tanks.

Unfortunately we are in the same boat again with availability of 'real' live rock again as the biggest producer of it was Walt Smith who literally supplied the world with his wild harvested live rock. That all stopped the first of this year. Now there is a HUGE vacuum for live rock as those of us who are producing it simply cannot fill the void Walt left. After the ban in Fiji in February I started getting calls from all over the world from Walt's customers looking for containers of live rock <25,000> pounds each shipped to them.

I have to turn them all down as it is simply not possible me to fill that volume, so they are forced to go the dead/dry rock route as there is nothing else to use in their tanks.

This has eliminated the ease of setting up a reef tank and have it ready to go in a couple of weeks. The trend I am seeing now is folks frustrated with the look and function of dry rock and created a new market of "I need some real live rock" to add to my tank and it's biodiversity and benefits.

So here we go again, market is shifting again, and I see it everyday with the orders from folks saying 'I need something to make my tank come alive" please send me some to populate my tank.


Richard TBS
www.tbsaltwater.com

I'm going to get into some of what Richard spoke about in his post, but I'm going to take it a little further. Most of you know I've been in the hobby over thirty years now. Back then, live rock was very live. For the really good stuff, we were paying anywhere from 15 to 20 dollars a pound. At that time there were around 6 very good LFS's in this area. Saltwater was taking off here, and the word reef was being thrown around. The mags were showing some pics of tanks and we all started going nuts trying to get tanks going up here. We all had bleached out coral heads in our fish tanks. What happened next was beyond what we ever thought was possible.

The guys at all the LFS and a few of us hobbyists got together every once and a while to have a little talk about things we had heard, (no real club yet, or internet forums, but that happened later). On one of the meets, someone showed off the "new" live rock. There was green stuff, all kinds of strange colors, bi-valves, limpets, worms and all these tiny bugs, (pods)!!! Now mind you, this scared some of us. My wife had dreams about things crawling out the tank and eating her. She also spent hours sitting in front of it watching all the life moving around. This was something quite new.


I'm going to end this part of the story for now anyway. This is where I want some of you as old as me to go back too. I didn't have a skimmer. Had a big hang on , (Aquaclear I think), hanging on the back with carbon in it. That's it. Nothing else. There weren't many corals added. A hammer, a bubble and a few shrooms. Three or four fish. Back in the day, it was a beautiful tank. Hammer and bubble grew, mushrooms multiplied. Things were stable for quite a few years. If you bought any green stripped mushrooms in the area, they probably came from my tank. Thing is, there is something that I don't remember having in that tank, algae outbreaks. I don't ever remember seeing cyano. I can't say it was because of the live rock, but I'm pretty sure it was because of the live rock. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
 

HumbleFish

Dr. Fish
Premium Member
I remember, when I started in the late 70s, there were still those bleached coral tanks around but at the same time there were already reef tanks with live rocks and even corals.
I only started to have success once I added live rock to my tanks.

It wasn't until the 1980s that we started seeing "reef tanks" where I lived (New Orleans).

Cryptocaryon, Amyloodinium, and most of the other fish parasites are food for filter feeders, rotifers, pods, corals,... during their off-fish stages. So if you have enough of those predators and enough diversity of them, many of those fish parasites will not reach a lethal level and the fish will be able to build up enough immunity against them to live with them.

Any peer reviewed sources for this? I've been searching for information regarding "natural predators" of parasite tomonts.
 

ThRoewer

New member
It wasn't until the 1980s that we started seeing "reef tanks" where I lived (New Orleans).
Among other, Wolfgang Klausewitz, a German ichtiologist, aquarist, and book author promoted the use of live rock in the early 70s.
Due to that live rock started to gain traction during the 70s and at the start of the 80s it was basically the standard in Germany and the Netherlands. The first was usually self collected Mediterranean reef rock aquarists brought home from vacation trips. But by the late 70s live rock from the Red Sea and Indonesia started to come in.

Any peer reviewed sources for this? I've been searching for information regarding "natural predators" of parasite tomonts.
Nothing that concentrates on natural predators. But I think that there were some that mentioned that for example rotifers go after Amyloodinium flagellates. Filterfeeder anyway. In their free state all these parasites are just part of the micro plankton.
But the targeted research focuses mostly on farm fish and there natural predators as disease containment methods are of not very effective.


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Vinny Kreyling

Premium Member
OH, I had one of those! One thing we have to remember with respect to algae.
Lighting was regular fluorescent bulbs, mostly 1 or 2 in a fixture. After a while we learned about Actinic bulbs, VHO, Compact florescent & Metal Halide as corals came along.
All the while increasing intensity & adding the time bulbs were on.
When I did maintenance to keep algae down we only ran dimmer lighting if there was no coral in the tank.
 

ThRoewer

New member
I remember, when I started reefing, many of the books would still said that getting algae to grow was a good thing, especially if you wanted to keep fish that need algae in their diets. So I really got excited when I saw some algae coming up in my first tank. Of course that joy changed quickly into annoyance...

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HumbleFish

Dr. Fish
Premium Member
Nothing that concentrates on natural predators. But I think that there were some that mentioned that for example rotifers go after Amyloodinium flagellates. Filterfeeder anyway. In their free state all these parasites are just part of the micro plankton.
But the targeted research focuses mostly on farm fish and there natural predators as disease containment methods are of not very effective.

I know baby brine shrimp will eat dinospores: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/1548-8667(1995)007<0257:CCOAOD>2.3.CO;2

But I've never read anything about rotifers. In fact, the opposite: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jmb/2015/614609/
 

ThRoewer

New member
Those are different dinoflagellates which are targeting rotifers as hosts. I'm not sure Amyloodinium can infect rotifers. And if brine shrimp eat it then I would think other predators can do the same.

Amyloodinium has been found feeding on Monogeneans which had infected fish. But I would assume that it was because the Monogenean were feeding on the fish and were "smelling" like fish.

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