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Algae: Friend or Foe?


  1. Algae: Friend or Foe?
    by George Booth <booth/> (Tue, 7 Jul 1998)
  2. Algae: Friend or Foe
    by "Roger S. Miller" <rgrmill/> (Wed, 8 Jul 1998)
  3. Amano's Algae
    by "Roger S. Miller" <rgrmill/> (Fri, 19 May 2000)

Algae: Friend or Foe?

by George Booth <booth/>
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998

This is partly in response to Roger Miller's post on algae control and partly in response to 
all the on-going posts relating to "getting rid of algae". 

At first glance, the answer to the Subject: question is obviously and 
unequivocally "FOE!".  End of story. End of thread. Thankyouverymuch. 

However, on second glance, I'm not so sure.  I certainly practice algae control 
in my tanks but the sight of algae does not send me running to the bleach 
section of my local grocery store nor does it cause me to rend my garments in 
fear and frustration. I consider algae a natural part of the quasi-ecosystem in 
my tanks and I like to think I'm dealing with algae in a natural manner using 
appropriate herbivores. 

Anyone claiming that they are providing a "natural" environment but who goes out 
of their way to "eliminate" algae isn't paying attention. Almost all photos I've 
seen of natural plant ecosystems seem to have two characteristics that are not 
found in a typical plant tank - mostly a single species of plant AND lot's of 

I'm definitely NOT saying that we should all have single plant species in our 
tanks and I certainly don't advocate an algae farm. I enjoy my planted tanks for 
their aesthetic beauty and neither of these attributes would qualify (except, of 
course, for certain Amano-style arrangements).  

But why would I consider algae a "friend"? 

We use Dupla products and concepts to provide a nurturing environment for the 
plants. This same environment is also good for higher forms of algae. Trying to 
carefully control the environment to allow plants to thrive but to prevent algal 
growth seems, to me at least, somewhat contradictive. I've read the seminal 
Sears-Conlin paper relating to PMDD and applaud their efforts but I have to 
think that this cannot completely prevent algae growth while still providing a 
proper environment for plants. I may, of course, be wrong. 

While the Dupla techniques do allow for algae, they also allow for algae control 
via algae eaters. We've always had algae eaters and we always add algae eaters 
immediately upon starting a planted tank. Only in cases where the algae eater 
population is too sparse have we had algae problems, i.e., more visible algae 
than I feel is aesthetically acceptable. 

We still need to wipe the glass at water changes and deal with the ubiquitous 
"green spot algae", but I find that acceptable. We rarely scrape the back of the 
tank and just let algae build up since it is hidden by the plants.  Slow growing 
leaves will collect some "red algae" roots (black areas) that the Siamese Algae 
Eaters can't get to but growth is fast enough, even on Anubias, that such leaves 
are simply removed when they become annoying.

We have a good assortment of algae eaters to deal with different types of algae. 
They obviously come in different sizes and shapes and with different algae 
removal equipment so it stands to reason that an assortment would be best at 
dealing with different algae types. Trying to depend on a single type of algae 
eater would be fruitless. 

We use Siamese Algae Eaters to control the red brush algae ("the only thing 
known to eat this"), otocinclus and farlowella to take care of soft algae types 
that adhere to flat surfaces, and yet more otocinclus to get at algae stuck in 
small places.  We also have bristle nose plecos but we never see them so we're 
not sure what they eat - I assume algae on flat surfaces, given their sucker 
mouth. The SAEs seem to always be grazing over all the plants, so I suppose 
their nibbling mouths keep hair-type algaes at bay. And, of course, Malaysian 
Trumpet Snails are always out at night, happily scraping off whatever they 
scrape off. 

Amano, for another example, seems to use a combination of SAE, otocinclus and 
his famous Marsh shrimp. "The Optimum Aquarium" book also describes a variety of 
algae eaters.  
So, in one respect, algae is a friend because it keeps all the algae eaters well 
fed and they are cool to watch. OK, I admit that is somewhat circular reasoning. 

But the algae consumes nutrients, the algae eaters consume algae and recycle it 
back. It just seems natural. Also, I'm sure there are smaller fauna in the tank 
that also live on tender young algae shoots and provide food for whatever unseen 
food chain might exist. And many species of decorative fish require some greens 
in their diet. I would think that this richer diversity would provide a 
healthier environment that a more sterile approach completely devoid of algae 
would afford. 

Food for thought.  <G>

George Booth in Ft. Collins, Colorado

Algae: Friend or Foe

by "Roger S. Miller" <rgrmill/>
Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998

Luca Specchio wrote:

> Hi there!
> >of their way to "eliminate" algae isn't paying attention. Almost all
> photos I've
> >seen of natural plant ecosystems seem to have two characteristics that are
> not
> >found in a typical plant tank - mostly a single species of plant
> correct!
> >AND lot's of algae.
> Well... I havent seen ANY ! Show your pics and I'll show you mine! Even in
> the Optimum Aquarium there are many pics of natural biosystems where you
> CANNOT find ANY algae.

I won't dish up any photos, since I don't have any on hand, but I'll
comment anyway.  The setting were I have often seen aquatic plants growing
apparently without algae is in spring-fed streams, near the source where
(providing the groundwater is clean and fresh) there are very few
dissolved nutrients and not much time has elapsed between the moment the
water issued from the spring and the time it reached my point of

I've seen a few other settings were macrophytes are growing but algae
weren't readily apparent but in these instances I think if you looked
closely enough you will usually find some algae.  Phytoplankton is found
almost everywhere.

Most any other time I see aquatic plants, I also see algae.  This wouldn't
necessarily be obvious in photographs.  But if you submit those settings
to the same kind of close scrutiny you give your tank I think you'll find
it there too.

The importance of algae in natural settings is undeniable.  Algae are the
primary biomass producers in aquatic systems and without them some water
bodies would be barren.  Streams and wetlands are closely linked to
terrestrial production and nutrient sources but even there the trophic web
would be pretty thinly occupied if not for the production by
phytoplankton, which are grazed by zooplankton and filter feeders, which
feed the fish...

As far as our aquariums are concerned, algae are usually present to some
degree and we often have to work to keep it below nuisance levels.  There
are cases where algae is desirable, as when you are keeping african
cichlids and other biofilm feeders that depend on it, or (as in some of my
tanks) where supporting a diversity of invertebrates is part of the reason
for the tank.

There are even times when algae are aesthetically pleasing.  Someone else
on this list mentioned once having a thick "lawn" of brush algae that was
very attractive.  I've seen this effect on stones in one of my tanks and I
would agree that it is interesting and attractive.  I also have a variety
of usually slow-growing green algae on a bit of driftwood that is very
attractive as long as its well-grazed. The algae creates a carpeting
effect that is both lush and very natural.

Roger Miller

Amano's Algae

by "Roger S. Miller" <rgrmill/>
Date: Fri, 19 May 2000

On Fri, 19 May 2000, Michael Moncur wrote:

> Maybe I'm cynical, but I see two very obvious answers:
> 1. Ten minutes before the photo was taken, the driftwood was in a different
> tank.
> 2. Amano and his minions painstakingly trimmed every last trace of algae
> from every other object in the tank.
> Given what we know about Amano's tanks, neither answer would surprise me...

Perhaps I'm less of a cynic, but I think it is possible to maintain a
single type of algae in a tank without having the whole tank overrun by
various other types of algae.

It seems that algae are specialists; each type is adapted to grow under a
narrow set of conditions.  Only a rather few algae actually grow well
under the conditions we usually provide in aquariums.  Also, algae eaters
tend to be specialists.  Some will eat green hair algae, others will eat
fur, and still others will eat bba, etc.  It's possible to set up a
combination of tank conditions and algae eaters so that one type of algae
grows dependably but not too uncontrollably, and most or all other algae
remain substantially under control.  Usually what we see is that the one
algae that isn't kept under control by grazing tends to grow too fast and
it quickly becomes a nuisance.  Hair algae is great for that.

I once brought a small bit of beaver-chewed driftwood home from the river
and plopped it into a tank in the hope that I might innoculate the tank
with something interesting.  At first it didn't look like anything
succeeded in adapting to the tank, but after a few weeks I saw a few small
tufts of a bright green, slow-growing fur algae.  Over the period of a
year it grew to form a very nice thick fur coat.  The tank had no problem
algaes; some appeared now and then but it never lasted for more than a few
weeks before something ate it or I got it under control. The green fur
slowly spread out onto nearby rocks, but those could be removed and
cleaned so it really wasn't a problem.

Eventually I needed more space in that tank so I pulled the algae-coated
driftwood out and threw it away.

Roger Miller

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