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Old 09/30/2003, 04:56 PM   #1
SeaStar
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Maturity Issues

Hi Eric, I was hoping you could help me to understand better what it means for a system to "mature" or "become established". Hobbyists (me included) are always saying not to keep that sps or this anenome for a least a year untill your system has matured.
What exactly are the differances between a tank which finished cycling a month ago and one that finished cycling 11 months ago.
Does it have to do with water parameters being more stable?
Does it have to do with natural food availability?
Does "tank maturity" pertain more to those who utilze a DSB, because it takes 6 months for a DSB to become functional ?


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Old 10/01/2003, 05:48 AM   #2
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I think it also has something to do with the reefkeeper and that tank. I wish I still had the quote ... but IMO something to do with after a while one messes less and less with the tank, both sticking hands in the tank and adding stuff.

After a year, beyond having all the equipment tweaked, most people have fallen into husbandry patterns where just about every variable is pretty stable, Calcium/Alkalinity/Waterchanges are on a fairly regular schedule so nothing changes much day to day.

I also think a lot of various nuisance stuff `blooms' during the first year, diatoms, cyano, algae ... etc. Normally it takes six months [IME] for these things to settle out and husbandry to have righted whatever problems caused these [if any] ... and that instead of a reactionary husbandry practice one has a pro-active one figured out.

Just my opinion, I'll let Eric shed the science outlook.


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Old 10/01/2003, 07:22 AM   #3
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I'm going to love responding to this one, but it'll take a while...I'll try tonight.


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Old 10/01/2003, 03:59 PM   #4
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We were discussing this in another thread (mainly SeaStar and I, the Crystal Sea thread on page 35 I believe ). I am of the belief that an aquarist with a considerable amount of experience who has had successes (and failures) and knows many of the reasons why, is able to prevent, eliminate many of the "newbie's" problems with a young tank.

As pointed out in the other thread, cycles happen regardless of the aquarist's experience, but their overall effect/impact on the system can be mitigated in many cases (avoid hair algae, wacky Alk/Ca/pH levels, elevated nutrients, physical disturbances, etc.). Some ionic and bacterial stability issues are largely invisible though...

I know Eric to be a promoter of letting the tank's "natural" flora and fauna proliferate for many months, and I agree that this is a very natural and safe approach. However, I think someone who has "been there" can modify these guidelines according to their experience. No, you can't rush quality - I agree that rushing things is not preferable. If I had the space and time, I would have waited longer than a month to put any animals in my tank. I guess what I'm saying is that experience can allow one to get away with some things . Then again, sometimes not.

This topic came up (most recently) when I mentioned I have had a couple older acro colonies (mine for close to 2 years) start to lose tissue on the tips about 2 months after my tank had been set up. The corals had shown growth in this time (new tips on branches). The corals had been in that tank for about 3 weeks before these negative effects were seen. The new tank is 100% Crystal Sea salt and the holding system they came from was about 75% CS and 25% IO. I was ready to put the ixnay on CS once and for all, but I decided to wait it out...I do realize my system is still young and there are likely more variables than the salt in question.

Needless to say, whatever is affecting these 2 acros is not showing up on any chemical tests and is not macroscopically visible (algae, cloudy water, etc..) All the rock I used was from my old system (and was housed in the holding tank with the corals). There was no die off on the rock after I moved it to my new tank, pod levels are visibly plentiful, and there is noticeable growth of animals on the rock (sponges mainly, also coralline and tube worms among other things). The main difference is a new substrate and 100% CS salt. The substrate was mature before the tank was (lightly) stocked - bubbles present, denitrification assumed to be occurring (no non-protein nitrogen appearing on any tests). I fed the tank from the day it was set up.

Anyhoo, I eagerly anticipate your dissertation, Mr. B
Go easy on my (reluctant) haste...


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Old 10/01/2003, 05:15 PM   #5
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Yep, I'll be most definitely tuning into this one ... the major reason I posted in early and hasty as Graham so well put it [better than I, too] - now I'm subscribed after posting ...


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Old 10/02/2003, 12:09 PM   #6
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I'm going on my 4th month of cycling with no live stock other then some turbo's and blue hermits. I have been feeding on the heavy side and will start to feed live plankton for the next 4 months. Then I will start to add corals. The fish will be added very last. The one thing that I have noticed is that the diversity of life is much great during the cycling process so far.


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Old 10/02/2003, 12:18 PM   #7
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Wow, that sounds pretty `mature' with your thinking at least.


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Old 10/02/2003, 12:48 PM   #8
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I'm just following what I think is solid advise, and so far I'm very happy with the way things are progressing.


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Old 10/03/2003, 12:15 AM   #9
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Before delving on this one, a couple of comments:

>>I know Eric to be a promoter of letting the tank's "natural" flora and fauna proliferate for many months, and I agree that this is a very natural and safe approach. However, I think someone who has "been there" can modify these guidelines according to their experience. No, you can't rush quality - I agree that rushing things is not preferable. If I had the space and time, I would have waited longer than a month to put any animals in my tank. I guess what I'm saying is that experience can allow one to get away with some things . Then again, sometimes not. <<

I agree one can go much much faster depending on what one begins with in the first place, and depending on how many times you've done it before. that said, with the average start up, there are certain things, as mentioned, that cannot be hurried, and hurrying seems to make them worse rather than better. The experience plays a part when you are able to nip some of those things in the bud because you have dealt with them before even in a mature tank.



>>I'm going on my 4th month of cycling with no live stock other then some turbo's and blue hermits. I have been feeding on the heavy side and will start to feed live plankton for the next 4 months. Then I will start to add corals. The fish will be added very last. The one thing that I have noticed is that the diversity of life is much great during the cycling process so far.<<

Yeah, that is the amazing part...a shame most will never witness that.

>>Hi Eric, I was hoping you could help me to understand better what it means for a system to "mature" or "become established". Hobbyists (me included) are always saying not to keep that sps or this anenome for a least a year untill your system has matured.
What exactly are the differances between a tank which finished cycling a month ago and one that finished cycling 11 months ago.<<

more below

>>Does it have to do with water parameters being more stable?<< yes, nut ot necessarily

>>Does it have to do with natural food availability?<< Not sure but I don't think so.

>>Does "tank maturity" pertain more to those who utilze a DSB, because it takes 6 months for a DSB to become functional ?<<

no. Tank maturity seems to be even more of an issue without the sand bed.. The sand bed just takes some time to get enough nutrients in it to sustain populations and stratify into somewhat stable communities...seems like a longer period of time makes things go in the other direction.

So, here's the tank reason, and then I'll blow into some ecology for you.

When you get a tank, you start with no populations of anything. You get live rock to form the basis of the biodiversity - and remember that virtually everything is moderated by bacteria and photosynthesis in our tanks. So liverock is the substrate for all this stuff, and also has a lot of life on it. How much depends on a lot of things. Mostly, marine animals and plants don;t like to be out of water for a day at a time...much less the many days to sometimes a week that often happens. So, assuming you are not using existing rock form a tank, or the well-treated aquacultured stuff, you have live rock that has either relatively free of anything alive, or you have live rock with a few stragglers and a whole lot of stuff dying or about to die because it won;t survive in the tank. From the moment you start, you are in the negative. Corallines will be dying, sponges, dead worms and crustaceans and echinoids and bivavles, many of which are in the rock and you won't ever see. Not to mention the algae, cyanobacteria, and bacteria...most of whcih is dead and will decompose, or which will die and decompose. This is where the exisitng bacteria get kick started...

Bacteria grow really fast, and so they are able to grow to levels that are capable of uptaking nitrogen within...well, the cycling time of a few weeks to a month or so. However, if you realize the doubling time of these bugs, you would know that in a month, you should have a tank packed full of bacteria and no room for water. That means something is killing or eating bacteria. Also realize that if you have a tank with constant decompositon happening at a rate high enough to spike ammonia off the scale, you have a lot of bacteria food...way more than you will when things stop dying off and decomposing. So, bacterial growth may have caught up with the level of nitrogen being produced, but things are still dying...you just test zero for ammonia cause there are enough bacteria present to keep upwitht he nitrogen being released by the dying stuff....does not mean things are finished decomposing.

Now, if things are decomposing, they are releasing more than ammonia. Guess what dead sponges release? All their toxic metabolites. Guess what else? All their natural antibiotic compounds...prevents some microbes from doing very well. Same with the algae, the inverts the cyano, the dinoflagellates, etc. So, let's just figure this death and decomposition is gonna take a while. OK, so now we have a tank packed with some kinds of bacteria, probably not much of others. Eventually the death stops. Now, what happens to all that biomass of bacteria without a food source? They die. Ooops. And, denitrification is a slow process. Guess what else...bacteria also have antibiotics, toxins, etc. all released when they die. But, the die-off is slow, relative to the loss of nutrients, and there is aleady a huge population...so you never test ammonia..."The water tests fine"

But, all these swings are happening...every time, they get less and less, but they keep happening. Eventually, they slow and stabilize. What's left? A tank with limited denitrification and a whole lot of other stuff in the water. Who comes to the rescue and thrives? The next fastest growing groups...cyano's, single celled algae, protists, ciliates, etc. Then they do their little cycle thing. And then the turf algae. Turfs get mowed dow by all the little amphipods that are suddenly springing up cause they have a food source. Maybe you've boght some snails by now, too. And a fish. And the fish dies, of course, because it may not have ammonia to contend with, but is has water filled with things we can't and don't test for...plus, beginning aquarists usually skimp on lights and pumps initially, and haven't figured out that alkalinity test, so pH and O2 are probably swinging wildly at this point.

So, the algae succession kick in, and eventually you have a good algal biomass that handles nitrogen, the bacteria have long settled in and also deal with nutrients, and the aquarium keeper has probably stopped adding fish for a spell cause they keep dying and they started to visit boards and read books and get the knack of the tank a bit. They have probably also added abunch of fix-it-quick chemicals that didn;t help any, either. Also, they are probably scared to add corals that would actually help with the photosynthesis and nutrient uptake, or they have packed in corals that aren't tolerant of those conditions.

About a year into it, the sand bed is productive and has stratified, water quality is stable, and the aquarist has bought a few more powerheads, understand water quality a bit, corallines and algae, if not corals and other things are photosynthesizing well, and the tank is "mature." That's when fish stop dying when you buy them (at least the cyanide free ones) and corals start to live and grow and I stop getting posts about "I just bought a coral and its dying and my tank is two months old" and they start actually answering some questions here and there.

So, ecologically, this is successional population dynamics. Its normal, and it happens when there is a hurricane or a fire, or whatever. In nature though, you have pioneer speices that are eventually replaced by climax communities. We usually try and stock immediately with climax species. And find it doesn't always work. Now, the "too mature" system is the old tank syndrome. Happens in nature, too. That whole forest fire reinvirograting the system is true. Equally true on coral reefs where the intermediate disturbacne hypothesis is the running thought on why coral reefs maintain very high diversity...theya re stable, but not too stable, and require storms, but not catastrophic ones....predation, but not a giant blanket of crown of thorns, mass bleaching, or loss of key herbivores.

This goes to show what good approximations these tanks are of mini-ecosystems. Things happen much faster in tanks, but what do you expect given the bioload per unit area. So, our climax xommunity happens in a couple years rather than a couple of centuries. Thing is, I am fully convinced that intermediate tank disturbance would prevent old tank syndrome.

So, that's it for now...time for me to hit the hay...sorry for typos, I am typing too fast in a dark office.


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Old 10/03/2003, 04:59 AM   #10
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Thanks Eric!

That was probably the best description of this I've read. Explains a number of things I've wondered about; even factoring in `from another tank LR'.

More than worth the wait. Thank you very much for the time and sleepy effort.


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Old 10/03/2003, 04:59 AM   #11
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shoot, double post


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Old 10/03/2003, 08:02 AM   #12
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Eric:

Next time would you mind going into a little more detail! LOL

Anyway, what did you mean by "intermediate tank disturbance"? How would that help to prevent "old tank syndrome"?

Now I understand why purchasing any organism from either an online source or a LFS has to be in a significant state of stress and survival rates so darn low.

As always, thanks for your time and expertise!


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Old 10/03/2003, 08:06 AM   #13
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I would hope/suggest that you could either re-write this or sticky it .... it's a great writeup.

That `intermediate' disturbance also has me wondering. How can I be a typhoon or severe storm in my tank or mimic that?


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Old 10/03/2003, 09:33 AM   #14
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I would think that an intermediate disturbance would be more on the line of strong waves and thunderstorms. A typhoon would be an extreme disturbance (depending on the depth we're talking about) more along the lines of a forest fire. So possibly a wavemaker takes care of some of the minor disturbances, but how do we 'replicate' stronger disturbances?
I guess we could mimic the 'hand of God' by running our hands blindly through the tank every year or two (LOL)


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Old 10/03/2003, 09:37 AM   #15
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I would also think possibly this major disturbance would be like using a powerhead and tubing to blow everything around and possibly even hand-shifting some rocks too? [except corals which would be hurt by it]

Interesting to think of this as an important part of keeping a tank long-term. Does make sense now that I'm thinking about it ... just not sure `how much' is enough?


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Old 10/03/2003, 10:30 AM   #16
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Eric,

This is the best description of the beginnings of a tank I have seen in print.

When starting a SW tank many do not understand anything other than they need some "bacteria" in the tank.

The cycles you have pointed out are very enlightening and something I've never really thought about and I've had "fish" tanks for well over 30 years.

I also think the style in which you wrote it is excellent as it is in "Play by Play" type description. Made me feel like I was there and watching every phase.

I don't (nor ever want) to work at a LFS, but I think everyone who is going to start a SW tank should read this after the first fish or coral dies. (it wouldn't do any good before that, which is to bad, but true).

I started a prop / grow-out / no room in the reef tank, tank in the garage about 6 months ago. This was started with a couple of pieces of fresh LR every couple of weeks, some home depot lights and no fish, a few snails and nothing more. The diversity in this tank, in the sand, on the rocks and on the glass is unbelievable. I can not claim to have planned it this way, it just happened due to it not really being a tank I was focused on. Now I seem to spend more time looking into this tank than the one in the house.

Makes me want to start all over again, but my wife could not deal with a fishless tank for 6 months to a year sitting in the living room.

This should be included in your next book!

Steve U


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Old 10/03/2003, 11:12 AM   #17
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Thanks Eric.

I wonder how feasible "intermediate" disturbances are for a captive system? We can intermediately disturb our corals through fragging, harvest algae, etc, but many of the associated critters are present in limited populations with a limited capacity for replenishment and limited means of control without eradication (not to mention being outcompeted). If we put a typical butterfly fish in our tank with live rock, we are eventually going to be left with no tube worms (among others). The butterfly may not get every last one, but the breeding stock is so depeleted that replenishment is quite negligible, wouldn't you say? We can't easily remove 'X' numbers of any given niche-filler.

Another analogy is the avice to keep a mandarin with so much live rock. If the food item has no refuge and separation from the predator, they are toast in the closed system - unless they can reproduce on the level of bacteria...Here we see the sense in refuges providing more volume (read - surface area) than the main system. How can we expect a 20 or 30 gallon tank to maintain any type of critter populations when the main system is over 100 gallons? Sure, something is better than nothing, but probably isn't imperative to the survival of any given prey of that food item. Ten pods making it into the main tank from the refuge per day is but a morsel... Even large refuges are probably giving very limited benefit to their prey - if that is the intent. Anyone who's seen how most fish in the wild don't do much more than feed can attest...which is why we supplement.

That is why I see the sense in you playing down the maturity for the sake of allowing critter populations to build up ("Does it have to do with natural food availability?<< Not sure but I don't think so.") The only immigration in our tanks is due to whatever we put in there. In such a finite volume, most natural non-bacterial prey are not going to be able to sustain an eq.


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Old 10/03/2003, 12:47 PM   #18
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Graham brings up a good point. I often wondered what role a refugium plays in the overall ecology of a reef tank. Given Eric's discussion, when would be an appropriate time to add a refugium? What about the refugium cycling as well? Is the real purpose of the refugium to act as a filter for the main tank? Similar to a mangrove along a shoreline? I always thought that the purpose of a refugium was to break down NO3, PO4 and other unwanted chemicals in the main tank water. Also, to supply some nutrition in the form of "live" critters to feed on.

Given the overall compexity of establishing a reef tank ecosystem, it's no wonder that each and every system is so different in terms of diversity and functioning.

Therefore, there can really be no "cookbook" formula on "how to do it" or, for that matter, "how not to do it".


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Old 10/03/2003, 01:25 PM   #19
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I seem to "disturb" my tank about once every 3-4 years without really doing it on purpose...as I decide to move it to another spot in the house, move to a new house, or upgrade to a different tank. Each time most of the bed is replaced, get some new rock, trade out some rock and corals, get new detrivores, etc.. Come to think of it, in 12 years I have done this 5 times now so I guess it is more like every 2-3 years.


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Old 10/03/2003, 01:30 PM   #20
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Just call him Hurricane Justin


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Old 10/03/2003, 01:34 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally posted by ReefDiver
Graham brings up a good point. I often wondered what role a refugium plays in the overall ecology of a reef tank. Given Eric's discussion, when would be an appropriate time to add a refugium?
I added mine at the same time I started my tank. Since it was to be part of my filtration system I saw no reason to delay. After reading Eric's comments I believe I made the right decision.

Thanks for the info Eric.


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Old 10/03/2003, 01:35 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally posted by MiddletonMark
Just call him Hurricane Justin
LOL, or there was the time when I had a 300 gallon vat filled for about 6 months and the bottom suddenly blew out....thank heavens for pond liners and some extra support strapping otherwise it would have all been on the floor and it REALLY would have been as if a hurricane struck. That was a fun few days trying to get everything out of there before it completely let loose!


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Old 10/03/2003, 04:13 PM   #23
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Saltshop,

Yours is probably the best example of "intermediate disturbance" I think we can get, though the new sandbed and (I assume) large percentage of new water is basically what I have done in my move. I have not, however added any new live rock (but added a few large pieces of sub-substrate base rock). I was actually amazed at the proliferation of life on the rock in the month the new tank was empty. It was a major factor in my going ahead with stocking what I had to stock in the tank.

While I am seeing largely desirable progression of the tank, the 2 acros receding at the tips kind of bother me. I am not going to lose either, as I have fragged a couple of unaffected tips that seem to be fine (after 5 days), but I have to consider them negative results. Nonetheless, nothing new will be going in the tank until all animals are progressing.

Someday I hope to be able to do the 6-9 month LRWSO (live rock with substrate only) tank! Next time...I plan on moving again in about 4 years anyway...



As for other "intermediate disturbances", sifting up the substrate has been largely frowned upon (especially the DSB)...I would love us to figure out some other possibilities of introducing this periodic disturbance to the tank without sabotaging the whole system...I guess some live rock replacement is good (even small amounts of uncured?), perhaps minor substrate replacement...blowing the rocks off with powerheads/turkey baster. Some of the things some of us consider somewhat normal "maintenance". While I usually place my corals with enough room to grow, I rarely intervene in their growth unless a neighboring colony is either a single unit (fungia/brain types) or getting wailed on.


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Old 10/03/2003, 04:47 PM   #24
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Eric, Thanks for taking the time to respond in the manner in which you did. There is alot of good and eye opening information in your response that I am sure will help all hobbyists have a better understanding about what the heck is going on in our tanks. I unfortunatley only had about five minutes early this morning to rush through it, but am looking forward to sitting down and really take it in this weekend.

My immediate question has already recieved some discussion above. "Intermediate disturbance" What would be your definition of this term. I thought not so much as a small hurricane in our tanks as was mentioned (I don't think this would serve much purpose as all the same elements still remain in a closed system), but more along the lines of actually swapping things out in our tanks. Remove (or greatly frag) certain corals, swap out different fish, maybe replace a small portion of a DSB (if one is installed in a tank), replace some LR. That sorta thing.


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Old 10/03/2003, 04:55 PM   #25
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Since Ecological Succession may be used as a model for how our tanks evolve over time, maybe it would be valuable for us to understand the succession of species in the real world a little better.

Unfortunately, for our critters, we have a tendency to want to have our tanks have the climax-state look almost immediately (like old-growth forest in a bottle).

Are there any on-line references that describe the succession of species on, say, an artificial reef?

Maybe that would allow us to plan the introduction of species to our tanks a little better and, as a result, reduce the stress on and mortality of our inhabitants.


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good read

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