The Bio Filter Is Always Imported
The bacteria that make up bio-filtration in aquaria, or as we’ve learned “aerobic autotrophs”, do not appear immaculately. In other words, they don’t just magically appear out of thin air just because the water has sat for six weeks with nothing in it.
These bacteria are always imported from somewhere. There has to be an “Adam and Eve” in order to propagate. Adam and Eve arrived in the system either on the fish themselves, their waste, or any other objects that have resided or had contact with another aquarium that already has established bio-filtration. Seeing as these bacteria are always imported, wouldn’t it be more useful to know how many are being imported?
Hobbyists don’t typically have the equipment to count bacteria. The best to hope for is that you “got some” from somewhere.
Take live rock, for instance. Many will boast the quality of their live rock for the role of helping establish bio-filtration. The assumption is made that “here is a rock from a system that is cycled. Therefore it is covered with nitrifying bacteria. The End.”
But this is like suggesting that if you dip a bucket in the ocean it will automatically be full of fish simply because “that’s where the fish are”.
Nitrifying bacteria don’t just latch on to the first available place. Truth be told, nitrifying bacteria will choose to reside in carbon over any other media nine times out of ten. Therefore, if a system has carbon attached to it, you can expect to find most of it there. In the event that there isn’t carbon, these bacteria will prefer to reside where the majority of the ammonia flow occurs in the aquarium. This will not consist of every square inch of live rock or any other media existing in the aquarium. Nitrifying bacteria are choosy. Like you and I they are looking for the perfect house that best suits their lifestyle.
This is why media exchanges from other systems are an inexact science. This passage is, by no means, discouraging this practice, as it can be quite useful and better than starting with nothing. It is to be noted, however, that there is risk involved with media exchanges. Pests, disease, and pathogens can be transmitted by moving material from one aquarium to another so caution must be observed.
Importing a concentrated culture of bacteria, such as with ATM Colony, carries no risk of transmitting anything harmful. It is, in essence, a sterile needle. Most importantly, you know you have the bacteria count to fully establish the number of bacteria required to perform bio-filtration in your system.