Fish spawning with high nitrates?

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bekateen
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Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by bekateen »

Hi all,
We've talked a few times on here about how some of my tanks can have high nitrates and how that should be harming the fish but there appears to be no obvious harm.

Today I bring you my toilet flush tank:
A 40 gal breeder filled 1/2-2/3 full with a 50-50 blend of tap water and DI water. TDS ~ 100-250ppm, pH 4.5-6.0 (TDS lower and pH higher after water changes), 25% - 30% water changes weekly. Filtration is a shoebox sized box filter meant for small ponds. 850gal/hr pond pump for strong current and aeration. Temp fluctuates daily from 68F-80F.

Lots of potted plants, most with roots under water and leaves in air.

11 adult Dekeyseria picta L052, 4-5 adult Pseudolithoxus anthrax, a couple of corys. And 150-250 baby L052.

I've never checked nitrates in recent history but on a whim I did yesterday and here's what I found.

Tank water nitrates are well over 100, somewhere between 120 and 160.

I don't want them so high, and I thought that with all three aerial plants (which are thriving), the nitrates would be low. The Dekeyseria just spawned again a couple of days ago and dad is fanning his eggs now. The fish are doing well.

I would do bigger water changes, but I don't want to mess with the pH because I've been told that's why the Dekeyseria are breeding and hatching so well.

Any thoughts?

Thanks, Eric
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1 part tank water with 5 parts DI water
1 part tank water with 5 parts DI water
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by dw1305 »

Hi all,
The first thing to say would be that we don't know what the safe level of NO3- is for the fish we keep, but my guess would be that the issue is with the test kit. Do you have access to an Ion Selective Electrode? The reason I think it's the test kit is:

You only have about 200 ppm TDS, and if your reading is right nearly all those ions must be NO3-.
You have lots of potted plants, most with roots under water and leaves in air, so they have the aerial advantage.
Your fish are doing well. To get that much NO3, if you aren't adding it, would mean that they have experienced sizeable amount of ammonium and nitrite previously.

cheers Darrel

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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by bekateen »

dw1305 wrote:
Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:00 pm
The first thing to say would be that we don't know what the safe level of NO3- is for the fish we keep
Absolutely true. I'm really surprised in this case because both pleco species in here (Dekeyseria and Pseudolithoxus) are, as I understand them, high current, high oxygen, high water quality fish. I've got the current and the oxygen down, just not the water quality.
dw1305 wrote:
Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:00 pm
but my guess would be that the issue is with the test kit. Do you have access to an Ion Selective Electrode?
No I do not. I have the API Master kit and a Hanna pH-Temp-Conductivity meter.
dw1305 wrote:
Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:00 pm
The reason I think it's the test kit is: You only have about 200 ppm TDS, and if your reading is right nearly all those ions must be NO3-.
You have lots of potted plants, most with roots under water and leaves in air, so they have the aerial advantage. Your fish are doing well. To get that much NO3, if you aren't adding it, would mean that they have experienced sizeable amount of ammonium and nitrite previously.
I do feed this tank pretty heavily because of all the fry, but again, this tank more than almost any other I'm diligent of 30% or so water changes weekly. What I am not good about is clearing the box filter. It is a PITA to take out of the tank and I always worry about dropping it in the tank or crushing fish when I'm taking it out and putting it back. It has two thin (1-1.5cm each) layers of filter media and under that bioballs. And the water pump (which is nestled within the bioball chamber, surrounded by the bioballs) is so strong that it sucks the water through the filter crazy fast, undoubtedly by-passing much of the filtration ability. I suspect that if the nitrates are really that high, they are coming from decaying organic matter in the filter box. Again, I dont wish to touch that because the fish are breeding so much, the eggs are hatching well, and the fry are thriving.

I suppose for now I won't worry about it and just keep doing what I've been doing till either I get a better meter or test kit, or until something goes wrong in the tank. :-\

Thanks,
Eric
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Top view of tank showing plants out of water and outflow of filter (filter under Pothos plant)
Top view of tank showing plants out of water and outflow of filter (filter under Pothos plant)
Front of tank. Water murky because I just did a WC
Front of tank. Water murky because I just did a WC
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by Bas Pels »

As Darrel stated, on paper the nitrates should not be able to reach such a level.

The fish are doing great. That allows one, I´d say, to blame te measurement.

Nitrate tests really expire after a while. So even this, rather convenient, conclusion is defendable.

I would continue what you are doing.
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by bekateen »

Bas Pels wrote:
Mon Mar 23, 2020 7:41 am
As Darrel stated, on paper the nitrates should not be able to reach such a level.

The fish are doing great. That allows one, I´d say, to blame te measurement.

Nitrate tests really expire after a while. So even this, rather convenient, conclusion is defendable.

I would continue what you are doing.
About the expiration date, yes they do expire. I checked that before using and the label says expires in 2021... Apparently not.

Cheers, Eric
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by dw1305 »

Hi all,
@bekateen, I know it is my answer to everything, but could you try a few more plants? I understand that a floating plant isn't possible, but something like a potted Cyperus?

Image

Looking at the tank, and reading your description of the filtration, then high nitrate levels look more possible. Cleaning the filter could be a two edged sword, as it maybe running pretty near its full capacity in terms of microbial nitrification. I would be a bit worried that as the fish grow and/or the filter clogs oxygen levels may fall, with inevitably catastrophic results.

Could you re-home some of the fish before a limited filter clean?

cheers Darrel

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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by bekateen »

Thanks for the advice. I'll see what plants are available.

I do plan to remove all the juveniles soon to a separate grow out tank, but right now I don't have that tank available.

Will provide updates later.

Cheers, Eric
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by TwoTankAmin »

There is some research into the toxicity of nitrate to aquatic animals of all sorts. There is nowhere near as much information on nitrate as there is on ammonia and nitrite. Please forgive my poor attempt to post the science below properly, but at least folks can follow the link to the study.

Camargo, Julio & Alonso, Alvaro & Salamanca, Annabella. (2005). Nitrate Toxicity to Aquatic Animals: A Review With New Data for Freshwater Invertebrates. Chemosphere. 58. 1255-67. 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2004.10.044.

Published data on nitrate (NO3-) toxicity to freshwater and marine animals are reviewed. New data on nitrate toxicity to the freshwater invertebrates Eulimnogammarus toletanus, Echinogammarus echinosetosus and Hydropsyche exocellata are also presented. The main toxic action of nitrate is due to the conversion of oxygen-carrying pigments to forms that are incapable of carrying oxygen. Nitrate toxicity to aquatic animals increases with increasing nitrate concentrations and exposure times. In contrast, nitrate toxicity may decrease with increasing body size, water salinity, and environmental adaptation. Freshwater animals appear to be more sensitive to nitrate than marine animals. A nitrate concentration of 10 mg NO3-N/l (USA federal maximum level for drinking water) can adversely affect, at least during long-term exposures, freshwater invertebrates (E. toletanus, E. echinosetosus, Cheumatopsyche pettiti, Hydropsyche occidentalis), fishes (Oncorhynchus mykiss, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, Salmo clarki), and amphibians (Pseudacris triseriata, Rana pipiens, Rana temporaria, Bufo bufo). Safe levels below this nitrate concentration are recommended to protect sensitive freshwater animals from nitrate pollution. Furthermore, a maximum level of 2 mg NO3-N/l would be appropriate for protecting the most sensitive freshwater species. In the case of marine animals, a maximum level of 20 mg NO3-N/l may in general be acceptable. However, early developmental stages of some marine invertebrates, that are well adapted to low nitrate concentrations, may be so susceptible to nitrate as sensitive freshwater invertebrates.
From https://www.researchgate.net/publicatio ... ertebrates

One quick observation re the above. "A nitrate concentration of 10 mg NO3-N/l (USA federal maximum level for drinking water)" uses the nitrogen scale. An API kit uses the total ion scale. The 10 mg/l (or 10ppm for Americans) would equate to 44.26 ppm on a total ion kit.

I have a few more studies bookmarked but I must admit over the past few years I have been reading fewer and fewer papers. Most of the papers I found dealt with nitrate in nature not tanks or with single species.

Edited to correct the URL above.
Last edited by TwoTankAmin on Wed Mar 25, 2020 12:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by Bas Pels »

The fish mentioned, Oncorhynchus mykiss, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, Salmo clarki, are all from the salmon family.

When a student, I did some toxicity work on heavy metals (copper, cadmium) on fish (Oreochromis mossambicus). From the literature I remember (30 years ago) salmons are very much more sensitive towards toxicity than pther fish. Around twice as much.
So the 44,26 mg/l TwoTankAdmin mentioned, could perhaps be doubled to 88,52 mg/l for catfish.
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by TwoTankAmin »

Of the ten FW fish mentioned in the above paper, three are salmon the rest are varied and include guppy, channel catfish and fathead minnow. There is also a section with SW fish.

Here is a paper which looks at zebrafish. When you see the levels of Nitrate involved it should make you scratch your head at the very least.

Acute and Chronic Toxicity of Nitrate to Early Life Stages of Zebrafish—Setting Nitrate Safety Levels for Zebrafish Rearing
Cândida Learmonth and António Paulo Carvalho.Zebrafish.Aug 2015.305-311. http://doi.org/10.1089/zeb.2015.1098
Published in Volume: 12 Issue 4: July 29, 2015
Online Ahead of Print:May 21, 2015
from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1 ... .2015.1098

Due to stay-at-home, I have a lot of time on my hands. so I am looking for more papers on nitrate. I am looking at one now which suggests that higher nitrate levels seem to protect against some diseases and parasites in guppies.

Chronic nitrate enrichment decreases severity and induces protection against an infectious disease
WillowSmallbone, JoCable, Alberto Maceda-Veiga
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2016.03.008

I found this one:
Evaluation of the effect of water type on the toxicity of nitrate to aquatic organisms
Author links open overlay panel
Josh A.Bakera, GuyGilronb, Ben A.Chalmersc, James R.Elphicka
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.10.059

It suggests that: "All of the organisms exposed to nitrate demonstrated significantly reduced effects with increasing ionic strength associated with changes in water type. Possible mechanisms responsible for the modifying effect of increasing major ion concentrations on nitrate toxicity are discussed."
from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/a ... 3516314436

I even found a study which suggest that the sailfin pleco helps to reduce nitrate levels.
Influence of Amazon Sailfin Catfish, Pterygoplichthys pardalis on the Chemical Characteristics of Dairy Effluent https://sciarena.com/storage/models/art ... s-of-d.pdf

The more I read about nitrate, the more confused I become. Some studies indicate low levels cause harm in many species and then I find studies which suggest that very high levels of nitrate are not harming specific species.
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by dw1305 »

Hi all,
I think the real problem is untangling the effects of NO3- ions on their own, rather than as the smoking gun of previous ammonia and nitrite levels.

I think this accounts for some of the startling difference in levels quoted, the Zebra Danio (Danio rerio) reference used sodium nitrate (NaNO3) for their nitrate addition, so it was NO3- ions added rather than them being the product of microbial nitrification.

There is a more complete discussion of the Danio paper on the UKAPS forum in: <"What are your nitrate guzzling plants.....">

The whole thread is worth a read, but the relevant content starts towards the bottom of page one.

cheers Darrel

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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by TwoTankAmin »

I am not sure I accept the notion of excess nitrate being the source of increased nitrite. For one many of the papers I came across were dealing with fish in the wild and nitrate resulting from run-off not nitrification.
The paper linked to this idea on the UKAPs site is from 1996 and has the incorrectly identified Nitrobacter given for nitrite oxidation in aqauriums. Is has since been identified as Nitrospira.

But, suppose in a "cycled" system one had high nitrate and some was being turned back into nitrite. Basically there are two possibilities. One is the excess nitrate damages or kills some or all of the Nitrospira present in a tank. This would mean nitrite created from ammonia oxidation would start a build up of nitrite. The other possibility is that the Nitrospira currently working to hold nitrite at essentially 0 would start to multiply. If there is 50% more nitrite created than the existent colony of Nitrospira can handle, they should double in not much more than 12-14 hours and then handle the increased nitrite which is not coming from ammonia oxidation but from nitrate reverting to nitrite. The result is no nitrite reading in short order.

I used to dose potassium nitrate in my high tech tank. There was a lack of nitrate because the plants got most of the ammonia which left little for the bacteria to convert to nitrite and thus to nitrate. The plants and/or algae use that little bit up with ease leaving the tank with none. Lets not forget that we are looking at conditions in aquariums, not in aquaculture nor in nature. Studies related to them need to be seen through that prism.

I do have one question here. Exactly what is the difference between NO3 created from nitrification v.s. from the addition of chemicals such as KNO3 or NaNO3 etc.? I understand they are also adding other things to the water but the NO3 part is the same isn't it?
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by Bas Pels »

Regardless how it is made, NO3- is NO3-. There is no way to find out how the molecule was made.

However, if nitrates have been build up slowly, there could be a possibility that an nitrate-eater would be interested in the high nitrates. In case of a high nitrate condition due to adding KNO3, this is not the case.

However, going from nitrite to nitrate the organism gets energy, and thus a nitrate-eater would need energy from another source and why burn nitrates i such a case? Further, as you pointed out, in case of any nitrate -> nitrite, the normal nitrate producing bacteria would just increase their numbers.

From a chemist's point of view, I would not know why, or perhaps better put how, high nitrate concentrations could result in high nitrite concentrations.
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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by dw1305 »

Hi all,
The first thing I'd say is that I practice nutrient depletion, and I use plant/microbe filtration as an essential part of this. I don't measure NO3 (it is much more problematic than most people realise, even with analytical quality equipment), but I use a mix of conductivity measurement and plant colour to give me a proxy for nutrient levels.
Bas Pels wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 7:36 am
Regardless how it is made, NO3- is NO3-. There is no way to find out how the molecule was made.
TwoTankAmin wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 9:01 pm
Exactly what is the difference between NO3 created from nitrification v.s. from the addition of chemicals such as KNO3 or NaNO3 etc.? I understand they are also adding other things to the water but the NO3 part is the same isn't it?
Yes I fully agree, every NO3- ion is the same in solution.

That would sort of be my point, if there is a large difference in toxicity between NO3 you've added (via KNO3 etc) and the NO3- you measure in a biological system (from the microbial oxidation of ammonia) it very strongly suggests that it isn't the NO3- ion itself that is causing the issues.
TwoTankAmin wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 9:01 pm
I am not sure I accept the notion of excess nitrate being the source of increased nitrite......
Bas Pels wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 7:36 am
From a chemist's point of view, I would not know why, or perhaps better put how, high nitrate concentrations could result in high nitrite concentrations.
No, I'm not really concerned with any form of denitrification.
TwoTankAmin wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 9:01 pm
I used to dose potassium nitrate in my high tech tank. There was a lack of nitrate because the plants got most of the ammonia which left little for the bacteria to convert to nitrite and thus to nitrate. The plants and/or algae use that little bit up with ease leaving the tank with none.
For me using plants (plant/microbe biofiltration) to remove all forms of fixed nitrogen is a "no brainer".
TwoTankAmin wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 9:01 pm
For one many of the papers I came across were dealing with fish in the wild and nitrate resulting from run-off not nitrification.
Yes that is the issue in eutrophication. In these cases a lot of the problems relate to algal blooms, de-oxygenation and what happens as day length drops. I'll need to detour into UKAPS again but it is a thread that illustrates the issue really well, and also explains why, even accurate, empirical measurement are only a "snap-shot" and may not always that informative, without the context as well.

cheers Darrel
Last edited by dw1305 on Fri Mar 27, 2020 10:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Fish spawning with high nitrates?

Post by bekateen »

Regardless of nitrate levels, he's caving and she's lining up for another go. I predict the 9th spawn by the end of the weekend. Time will tell.
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