Ammonia & the Nitrogen Cycle: Keep Your Aquarium Healthy

Chart 1. Typical patterns of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate in a new aquarium.
Photo provided by Flickr
Tiny amounts of ammonia may come from the water and the salt mix, but the primary source is your animals. The organisms that excrete waste, i.e., fish and invertebrates (but not algae), are also producing a continuous supply of ammonia. The same goes for uneaten fish food and dead animals. In a healthy aquarium the ammonia is converted to nitrites and then nitrates through bacterial action. Nitrate is not particularly harmful except in large amounts, and much of it is normally used up by algae and microorganisms in a saltwater tank, and plants in a freshwater one.
I am with Byron,,I would not expect to see ammonia in cycled,moderately planted aquarium.
Photo provided by Flickr
This has been a short, basic overview of Ammonia and some of its phases as they are relevant to the home aquarium. Understanding its effects and what steps to take to reduce its potency will save your fish. I hope we have provided you with another tool to keep a long lived and healthy home for your fishy friends. Why do ammonia removers inhibit the nitrifying bacteria? There are two major reasons for this and both may apply to your aquarium.
Photo provided by Flickr1. Nitrosomonas bacteria convert ammonia to nitrite, nitrospira bacteria convert nitrite to nitrate, water changes dilute nitrate in the aquarium.
Photo provided by Flickr2. Plants eat ammonium to grow new tissues, plants are trimmed and nitrogen in the tissues is removed from the aquarium.
Photo provided by Flickr
Like all living creatures, fish give off waste products (pee andpoo). These nitrogenous waste products break down into ammonia (NH3),which is highly toxic to most fishes. In nature, the volume of waterper fish is extremely high, and waste products become diluted to lowconcentrations. In aquariums, however, it can take as little as a fewhours for ammonia concentrations to reach toxic levels.Ammonia's toxicity to fish is very well know. Most aquarium and pond related books usually dedicate at least a paragraph or two on the subject. What is often not mention in many books is the relationship pH plays in the toxicity of the ammonia.The desired species of nitrifying bacteria are present everywhere(e.g., in the air). Therefore, once you have an ammonia source in yourtank, it's only a matter of time before the desired bacteria establisha colony in your filter bed. The most common way to do this is toplace one or two (emphasis on one or two) hardy andinexpensive fish in your aquarium. The fish waste contains theammonia on which the bacteria live. Don't overfeed them! More foodmeans more ammonia! Some suggested species include: common goldfish(for cold water tanks), zebra danios and barbs for warmer tanks, anddamselfishes in marine systems. Note: Do not use ``toughies'' or otherfeeder fishes. Although cheap, they are extremely unhealthy and usingthem may introduce unwanted diseases to your tank.This process can take from 2 weeks to 2 months or longer to complete. It is vital for anyone planning on keeping aquarium fish to understand this process. Learning about this process will help you to be successful in keeping fish and it should definitely improve your chances when keeping tropical fish. The best way to monitor the nitrogen cycle is to purchase an that will test for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and ph.Some call it the biological cycle, the nitrification process, new tank syndrome or even the start-up cycle. They all are referring to the same cycle - The Nitrogen Cycle. The aquarium nitrogen cycle is a very important process for the establishment of beneficial bacteria in the aquarium and in the filter media that will help in the conversion of ammonia to nitrite and then the conversion of nitrite to nitrates. Check out the aquarium water chemistry page (on the left) for more information on these terms.Test your aquarium water every other day and write down your readings. You will first see ammonia levels rising. A few weeks or so later you should see the nitrite levels rising and the ammonia levels dropping. Finally, after a few more weeks you should see the nitrate levels rising and the nitrite levels dropping. When you no longer detect ammonia or nitrites but you can detect nitrates you can assume that it is safe to add your tropical fish.