Importance of Biodiversity

Biodiversity, what is it and why does it matter? Or does it?

We see the term biodiversity mentioned time and again. But do we really understand it? Does it really make sense, or is it just a clever catch phrase. If it is truly important, what are the best ways to achieve, and maintain this.

The simplest description is, a variety of life in many forms existing together within an environment or ecosystem. By this we can assume that the more the merrier, but we all should know that not all life in our little slices of ecology is good. So how do we reach an optimum equilibrium with good biodiversity without the bad? What is good and bad?

This process starts from day one in what we call the “cycle” which is discussed at length on and other online sources. This is the process of developing a bacterial base that breaks down the waste produced by our fish providing an environment that supports the health and life of our fish. But we have to develop much more to come close to mirroring the ocean and it too starts at day one. Each and everything we add to our aquariums adds something to this process.

Every step in developing our tanks adds another block to this process. We start by placing aquascaping into our tanks. We can choose from dry sand, “live” sand, and at least in the past actual live sand (harvested from the ocean including a variety of organisms), or bare bottom. Adding bagged “live” sand containing bacteria (anaerobic I believe) is touted to accelerate our cycle, ocean sources sand would also add bacteria needed in our system plus organisms such as micro brittle stars, bristle worms, amphipods and copepods but possibly some we would choose to avoid like fire worms, mantis shrimp etc. Then we build on top of this with a structure. I remember when coral skeletons were bleached and used as aquarium decor, didn’t add much in terms of biodiversity but added a stunning display (when clean).  Dry rock IMO is basically the same thing and doesn’t help us build this diversity of life. Then there is “wet” rock sold by LFS as “live” rock, this rock’s value to our ecosystem entirely depends on any additional processes that the LFS may provide. Do they seed this bath process with bacteria or nutrients to encourage the colonization of bacteria in and on the rock. Then there is true ocean sources live rock. This rock is sourced straight out of the ocean (some sources farm this rock through ecologically responsible manners) and therefore if handled properly will arrive in our tank with a plethora of aquatic life.  A majority of which is beneficial and sought after, but some again which are not aquarium friendly such as mantis shrimp, gorilla crabs and other invasive critters.

Once we have the tank set up we work through the cycle and “ugly stage”.  Here we might add bottled bacteria. There is a vast array of choices and options here, with hobbyists promoting this brand or that, with many offering stories of successful results from using this one or that one. Products are advertised and promoted to establish the cycle faster, to provide bacteria to enhance coral health and growth, and to keep our tanks clean and clear.

Now we start intentionally adding life into our tanks. This is where it really gets fun!! We start by adding fish or corals. During this process we often add additional life forms inadvertently. Can you say ich, velvet, flukes or flatworms, spiders, or vermetid snails not desired, or stomatella snails, feather dusters, and pineapple sponges which can be great additions. We can follow this with a Clean Up Crew (CUC) consisting of snails, shrimp, certain starfish, urchins etc. These not only help us to keep our tanks clean, but help to enhance and balance the environment within our aquariums.

Before or during this process we will often encounter the “Ugly Stage”. Here we will experience a sometimes sudden and explosive growth of new life in our tanks. This can include diatoms, various algae, and bacteria both good and bad (Cyanobacteria yuck).  But again even though we see it as a struggle, IMO it is still a natural and unfortunately necessary step or phase in our journey to tank maturity. There are methods and means to eliminate or lessen the impact this stage presents, and you will find numerous posts on Reef2Reef discussing and combating this “nuisance” stage, and many or a combination of them are quite successful.

There are also ways to intentionally add diversity to our aquariums. Earlier we discussed live rock.  This can be used not only in the aquascape, but many utilize live rock or rock rubble in their refugium as a structure to host pods. Adding pods either copepods, amphipods or isopods is a terrific way to boost the biodiversity of an aquarium with added benefits of providing a live nutritious food source for many of the other sources of life including fish and corals. We offer a variety of different mixtures of pods that you can find here

Having a structure for them to dwell in and on greatly increases the likelihood they will reproduce and become self sustaining within your aquarium. Other additions to the refugium would include “live” mud, which I understand to bring anaerobic bacteria into the system which can help with nitrate reduction by completing the nitrogen cycle reducing nitrate to oxygen and nitrogen particles. Or adding a macro algae such as chaeto or calurpa. This too becomes a haven for our pod populations while at the same time consuming nutrients from our water increasing the overall health of our aquariums.

Outside of the refugium, some hobbyists introduce macro algae for aesthetic and utilitarian purposes as well. In the DT these macro algae also work towards removing excess nutrients from the water column while adding color and motion to the aquascape. Others add this for very specific reasons such as providing a stable and accompanying environment for creatures such as pipefish and especially seahorses who do best when they can grasp onto the stalk of the macro algae providing safety and protection from the current and possible predators (hopefully not present in our tanks).

Another excellent source of diversity comes from the dosing of micro algae, what we commonly refer to as phytoplankton. Phyto much like macro algae provides a dual purpose in the aquarium. Regular dosing of phytoplankton provides a constant supply of nutrients to various species within the aquarium. Filter feeders such as clams, feather dusters, NPS corals will greatly benefit from dosing phytoplankton, as will many other corals. Phytoplankton also provides the necessary nutrients for your pod population to grow and reproduce.  Dosing live phytoplankton can also play an important role in nutrient export, and I highly recommend it for battling high nitrates and phosphates as a natural means of bringing them into acceptable levels and balance. I use our Phyto Buffet daily in our 6 systems which you can find at

This combination of life sources I believe is what makes keeping an aquarium possible, and reaching that maturity can help you achieve the stunning results we see displayed by many people here in our Reef2Reef community and across the web  

I hope you found this helpful, happy reefing.