New aquaria also do not usually have the required populations of bacteria for the handling of nitrogen waste. In a process called cycling, aquarists cultivate these bacteria as fish and other producers of nitrogen waste are gradually added to the tank over the course of several weeks. Aquarists use several different methods to jump start this process, including the use of water additives containing small populations of the bacteria, or “seeding” a new tank with a mature bacterial colony removed from another aquarium (such as can be found on gravel or biological filter media).
Other cycling methods that have gained popularity in recent years are the fishless cycle and the silent cycle. As the name of the former implies, no fish are kept in a tank undergoing a fishless cycle. Instead, small amounts of ammonia are added to the tank to feed the bacteria being cultured. During this process, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are tested to monitor progress. The silent cycle is basically nothing more than densely stocking the aquarium with fast-growing aquatic plants and relying on them to consume the nitrogen products rather than bacteria. According to anecdotal reports of aquarists specializing in planted tanks, the plants can consume nitrogenous waste so efficiently that the spikes in ammonia and nitrite levels normally seen in more traditional cycling methods are greatly reduced, if they are detectable at all.
Improperly cycled aquaria can quickly accumulate toxic concentrations of nitrogen waste and kill their inhabitants.
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