What Is Bioload? and Why is Bioload Important?

I have often thought about just what makes an aquarium set up work and what kind of life forms actually exist in one. With a little bit of research, it was not that difficult to discover what the term bioload had to do with an aquarium. I was miffed at first, as I have to admit I have never been acquainted with the term until now.

What is Bioload? Bioload is a scientifically affiliated term that is the shortened word for the actual words “biological load”. To describe it simply, bioload is all of the waste in your aquarium. Waste such as Poop, Uneaten food, or other kinds of waste from all the living things in your aquarium like fish, plants etc.

Since the term is almost always used in its abbreviated form, most people are unfamiliar with the meaning of the term and its purpose, whether it happens to be in the one-word form or the two-word structure.

To know more about the term’s actual meaning, you have to understand what happens with the living organisms, plant, and animal, that reside within an aquarium. Besides the animals and plants, you have microorganisms and bacteria that are present and exist in the water. These living organisms, whether they happen to be fish, snails, plants, coral pieces, and even the unseen in bacteria and microorganisms, produce waste byproducts. The waste is present in either liquid or solid eliminations or excretions that are released into the aquarium water.

The released waste devours oxygen, and the microorganisms within the aquarium consume it, which leads to the decomposition of the waste into nitrogen and nitrate elements like ammonia, which have a toxic effect on the forms of life within an aquarium. A build up of these harmful components can put life forms in an aquarium at risk of harm, deterioration and death.

Further Bioload Intrigue and Waste Occurrence

Anything that is added to a fish tank or aquarium in the form of food can contribute to the bioload process. The excretion of waste will always be part of the cycle of an aquarium, particularly since the water in a fish tank can only maintain so much oxygen. The same process is true of any stray food particles that fall to the bottom or corner of a tank, as the food deteriorates or is consumed by bacteria, and any other microorganisms that are present in the tank. Both have the ability to continually release more waste into the aquarium through the consumption of pieces of wayward food.

The most prevalent kinds of bioload/waste in an aquarium are going to occur through:

  • Fecal matter
  • Unconsumed food
  • Fish respiration (release of ammonia from their gills and other bodily wastes)
  • Plantings that have decayed
  • Other waste (bacteria, microorganisms, fungus)

Bioload Level Control

Obviously, the amount of waste generated in the water of an aquarium has to be controlled in order to inhibit it from overtaking an aquarium and harming or killing fish and other living dwellers. Since a tank can only accommodate a limited degree of oxygen, which is actually meant for the animals in the tank or for the filtering of toxins through a filter, controls have to be implemented in order to prevent the overproduction of waste matter. To prevent this type of inundation, the following precautions should be observed:

  • Keeping check and monitoring the ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels in a tank
  • Utilizing a sufficient filtering system that is able to filter out ammonia and nitrites
  • Determining the right size of filtering system to deal with toxins and bacteria as any excessive amounts of either can accumulate and grow outside a filter and consume more oxygen
  • Maintaining/cleaning a filter for any blockages
  • Eliminating uneaten food from the bottom areas of a tank
  • Reducing and controlling the number of inhabitants of an aquarium – a bioload cannot remain level with the addition of more animals or introducing animals (like snails) that can overpopulate a tank and release excessive waste
  • Feeding aquarium inhabitants infrequently or sparsely, which leads to a cleaner and healthier tank

Other Means of Bioload Control

Other ways of controlling the bioload effect should include:

  • Increasing the tank filter size or including other filtering media within the filter itself, which can efficiently deal with the nitrifying process
  • Increasing the levels of oxygen in the tank water by allowing for aeration or oxygenating of the surface water or movement of the water at that level
  • Completing continual water changes to rid a tank of dissolved waste as well as increasing oxidation/reduction (redox) within the tank water so the water can retain more oxygen and reduce any bioload

Related Questions

1. What should a tank filtering system do to curb and better control the bioload effect?

An aquarium filter system should be able to recycle the water that is in the tank and clean it before it goes back into the tank. Water can be emptied from a tank on a regular basis but it will still require filtering to balance the bioload effect when water is not being exchanged. A filter should be able to clean water completely and bring it back to its original state, but there is no perfect filter that can deal with the constant cleaning of an aquarium. There are, however, features or capabilities of a filtering system that help alleviate the bioload effect. Those features include:

  • A filter that can remove heavy metals, chemicals and other materials from a tank
  • A filter that can remove food debris, discernible waste and odors from a tank
  • A filter that has filtering material capacities (media) to help eliminate or neutralize harmful substances like phosphates, ammonia, nitrates and nitrites.
  • A filter that can handle varying sizes of aquariums
  • A filter that has rotational system (360 degree)
  • A filter that has an easy set up and starting capacity
  • A filter that has a quiet yet powerful motor
  • A filter that has a quiet mode of operation
  • A filter that has water tight seals that prevent leakage

2. Is the testing of aquarium water a necessity?

The testing of aquarium water is a necessity due to the buildup of ammonia and nitrites and other elements in the water due to plant and animal waste and the bioload effect. Water testing is critical in preserving the life and health of the fish living in the aquarium.

There are test kits and test strips available to determine the pH of the water as well as levels of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates and other harmful substances. Additional kits can be found to test for hard water levels and algae problems related to phosphates. Some pet shops will offer water testing for a nominal fee or even a monthly test on a for-free basis.

3. What kinds of fish are best suited for reducing the bioload in an aquarium?

No particular kind of fish is better suited to reduce the bioload of an aquarium, though the bioload will vary according to the size of the fish. Generally, a larger fish will create a larger bioload, while a smaller one will create a diminished one. The bioload will also be determined by whether the fish eats meat or plant substances as well as to the amount of food ingested. The effectiveness of the digestive system of a particular fish will also play a role in determining the bioload. For example, goldfish, which are commonly seen in aquariums and fish bowls ingest considerably more food and excrete more waste than say danios.

So, even though there are calculators made today that will establish the bioload of fish before purchasing them, they are often inaccurate and lacking in backup data and evidence. So, there are limitations on finding the bioload capacity for a particular type of fish, though research and experience can be the keys in determining what particular fish are best suited for aquarium life along with how much food they ingest and the amount of food they eliminate through their digestive systems. There are also experts and fish enthusiasts who have experimented with various choices of fish for aquarium use, and they can direct individuals to the right sources.

4. What are indicators of a high bioload in an aquarium?

A high bioload can be recognized through the level of oxygen in the water. An aquarium owner can observe the action of the fish or other animals in the tank. This may be inconvenient as it occurs late at night or in the wee hours, but it is necessary to watch for and determine whether there is a high bioload within a tank. Fish will come to the surface or near surface of the tank and make a rush for air at the surface. This action is easy to identify through observation and is an indicator of lack of oxygen and a high bioload.

Another sign of high bioload is the accumulation of algae blooms and tufts and clusters of brown bacteria that develop on varying surfaces of an aquarium. The cause is these growths is the availability of food sources for these organisms.

5. How does an aquarium owner test for a high bioload?

Constant problems will occur with an aquarium when its system’s nitrogen cycle is in an imbalanced state. There will be indications of that when both ammonia and nitrites are being rapidly produced. If the bacteria in the aquarium’s filter is unable to convert either of these toxic elements to nitrates, then you will know there is a bioload overload. If the ammonia and nitrites levels are testing higher than 0 parts per million (ppm), the bioload is over the limit for the size of the aquarium. In this case, the options available include purchasing a larger filtration system, which can be costly, and downsizing the number of fish that are living in the tank. Any other fish in the tank will be considerably more healthy without added companions.

In addition, bioload considerations should also include investigation into the additional cycles that are going on in an aquarium. A whole assessment will better able an aquarium user to determine where problems with high bioload are occurring.

There are a number of sources that can be attributed to the information compiled here and they can be found through the following links:

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