Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle typically takes approximately 4 to 5 weeks to get to the healthier "nitrate" producing state. This is why you shouldn't add additional fish until the Nitrogen Cycle matures to this point. The good news is that once your tank is properly "cycled" the beneficial bacteria in the aquarium will continuously break down fish waste and uneaten food, helping to keep your tank healthy, as long as you continue routine maintenance.

To illustrate the maturation process of the Nitrogen Cycle in the aquarium, this chart demonstrates what happens to the ammonia (NH3), nitrite (NO2-) and nitrate (NO3-) levels in a new aquarium:  


Here are the basics of how the biological ecosystem in an aquarium matures the Nitrogen Cycle.  Basically, the Nitrogen Cycle is the process where the biological ecosystem disposes of the most toxic Nitrogen based compounds by rendering the poisonous Nitrogen to a less toxic chemical form… 
  • Wastes and debris (like uneaten food) decays and is broken down into AMMONIA (NH3) which is toxic to your aquarium's inhabitants; 
  • Ammonia builds up (see the green bell curve on the chart) while the first significant part of your biological ecosystem, NITROSOMONAS bacteria, grows until it is breaking down the ammonia faster than it is produced. The Nitrosomonas bacteria is specialized to absorb the ammonia, and convert it into NITRITE (NO2-). Nitrites are also toxic to the aquarium's inhabitants; 
  • As Nitrites build up (see the purple bell curve on the chart), the second significant bacteria in your biological ecosystem, NITROBACTER, is triggered to multiply. The Nitrobacter bacteria is specialized to absorb the nitrites, and convert it into NITRATES (NO3-). Nitrates are the least toxic nitrogen-based compound to your aquarium’s inhabitants.

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