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The 4 Things Aquarium Algae Needs to Grow

Aquarium algae needs 4 elements to grow and multiply. Learn how to control these factors and you may be able to avoid problems with aquarium algae growth in your tank.


New aquarium hobbyists are often at a loss regarding what to do in the event of an aquarium algae bloom. Algae blooms and prolonged, excessive growth of aquarium algae are problems that many hobbyists experience at one time or another, so don't be too discouraged if you fall victim to algae growth. In order to prevent and properly deal with the problem of aquarium algae it is wise to learn the basics about these organisms. When you are equipped with knowledge about how aquarium algae grow, you will be able to alter the conditions in your tank to make it a less desirable environment for algae. There are four main things that algae needs to grow and if you are able to control these factors, you may be able to avoid problems with algae growth in your tank.

Adequate Light

sunlight in water xs 9899053Algae are autotrophic organisms - this means that they require light in order to grow and function. Like plants, algae go through the process of photosynthesis in order to produce complex organic compounds such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Though algae functions in a way similar to many plants, it does not possess plant-like leaves or roots through which to absorb light. Rather, algae are photoautotrophic organisms which derive energy directly from sunlight (or aquarium lighting). This is why aquariums that receive a great deal of direct sunlight are likely to experience problems with algae growth – the more lighting the tank receives, the better an environment it becomes for algae. In order to prevent excessive algae growth in your tank, position your aquarium somewhere it will not be exposed to sunlight. You should also only keep the lights on in your tank for a maximum of 12 hours. Most aquariums can get by on as little as 8 hours of light but planted tanks generally require between 10 and 12 hours of light in order to facilitate healthy plant growth.

Available Nutrients

phosphorus s 6508064The two nutrients that are most often correlated with algae growth are nitrogen and phosphorus. In addition to these nutrients, however, algae growth can also be affected by carbon and silica. The amount of organic waste and debris in your tank is directly related to the amount of nutrients available to algae. If you overfeed your fish they will not only produce larger quantities of waste, but some of the fish food may accumulate in the substrate of your tank where it will begin to break down. Decaying plant matter and dead fish can also result in an increase in nitrogen and phosphorus in your tank. Installing a quality filtration system in your tank can help to control both solid and dissolved wastes which may help to keep aquarium algae growth at a minimum. The most effective way to decrease the amount of nutrients available to algae, however, is to add live plants to your tank. Live aquatic plants will natural compete with algae for nutrients and they will also benefit your tank by producing oxygen.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon-dioxide 25412054It has already been discussed that algae are photoautotrophic organisms which, like plants, gather energy from sunlight. Another similarity between algae and plants is that algae converts carbon dioxide into organic materials that other organisms can use for biological functions such as cell respiration. One of the products of this process is oxygen, though algae does not produce oxygen in the same quantity as plants. In some areas, tap water may contain a high CO2 content which could cause fluctuations in CO2 levels, and thus algae growth. Other factors such as the use of a CO2 injector may lead to higher levels of CO2 in your aquarium.


waterfall s 21688631It may seem obvious, but water is one of the most important things algae needs in order to survive. Not only do algae need water to live, but there are certain water conditions in which it is most likely to thrive. Algae tend to grow more quickly in warm water because the metabolic and reproductive rates of algae are increased at higher temperatures. In addition to the water temperature, the chemical content of the water can affect algae growth. Performing weekly water tests is a simple way to ensure that the chemical levels in your tank remain stable – a sudden spike could trigger algae growth. It is also wise to make weekly water changes of between 10% and 20% of the tank volume in order to keep the water quality in your tank high.

Additional Algae Tips

pleco xs 18126263It is natural and healthy to have some level of algae growth in your aquarium because it can be a good supplemental food source for your fish. Herbivorous species of fish may especially benefit from algae growth in the tank because these fish tend to be grazers – they are likely to feed on algae growths continuously throughout the day. While it is a good idea to limit the amount of lighting and nutrients available in order to prevent aquarium algae blooms, do not try to completely rid your tank of algae by using a commercial algae-killer. These products may succeed in killing the algae in your tank, but they could also kill other microorganisms like the beneficial bacteria your tank needs in order to maintain the nitrogen cycle. Therefore, it is wise to avoid chemical treatments for aquarium algae whenever possible because you do not know how your fish are going to react and there could be long-term negative side effects.

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