The Living Filter

Natural Cycles: The Simple Beauty of Live Rock and Live Sand Systems mm arly in my college days at the University of II Tennessee, long before I had any training in marine '!§ biology, I was lucky enough to be assigned as an ad-I visee to Dr. J.O. Mundt of the Department of Mill«! crobiology. Dr. Mundt ( now deceased) was a great mentor who kindled my interest in microorganisms and their biochemical virtuosity by demonstrating a remarkable capability in the area of controlled fermentation to produce beverage alcohol. In layman's terms, he made great wines.

His skill extended to other foodstuffs that were prepared with the aid of bacteria, yeasts, and molds, and I shall never forget the taste of his strawberry vinegar. It was not made by steeping the fruit in white wine vinegar, as the commercial product is produced. Rather, ripe strawberries were first transformed into wine by the action of yeast, and this was subsequently turned into vinegar by the introduction of appropriate bacteria. The result had the sweet/tart tang of wild strawberries. Dribbled on garden fresh lettuce, the effect of this concoction was Elysian.

Dr. Mundt was the first microbial ecologist I ever met, and he taught me how the bacteria inhabiting all of Earths

Festooned with mushroom anemones and other life, live rock forms the biological foundation of a natural reef aquarium.

environments contribute fundamentally to the characteristics of those environments. Oddly, 30 years later, I have come to associate the clean ocean smell of live rock with Dr. Mundt.

This characteristic odor, rather like that of freshly dug earth, is due to volatile organic molecules produced by bacteria. As a marine aquarium retailer, I have handled, literally, tons oflive rock. Some of it has been a source of discovery, while some of it has brought with it little more than foul silt and bad smells. Good-quality live rock, however, is absolutely essential to the successful establishment of a natural marine aquarium in the shortest possible time.

Chief among the helpful microorganisms colonizing live rock and live sand are nitrogen-dependent bacteria. To Dr. Mundt, this would have been obvious. To the novice aquarist, it is perhaps less so. The management of the nitrogen from these essential microorganisms is vital to the survival of all higher organisms in the aquarium ecosystem.

The Nitrogen Cycle I

Much has been written about one group of aquarium bacteria in particular, the nitrifiers. Two genera, Nitro-somonas and Nitrobacter, have long been recognized for their

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