pods in your reef, here is a tigriopus copepod

Pods In Your Reef: Seeding a Marine Aquarium with Copepods

Benefits of Pods In Your Reef:

Microcrustaceans (or “pods”) in general, and copepods in particular, are an integral component of aquatic food webs. This is so in virtually every marine environment including coral reef habitats. Therefore, pods in your reef are a healthful addition to any reef aquarium. Lucky, a handful of useful copepod species has become available to reef aquarists for this purpose. Aquaculturists at AlgaeBarn have in fact focused their work on these highly specialized live foods. Consequently, any aquarium hobbyist can acquire a subscription for regularly scheduled deliveries of high-quality live pods. Truly, AlgaeBarn has made it a lot easier for any reef aquarist to sanguinely use the term “pod” as a verb.

This is not a trivial development. It is equally important from an ecological perspective to add pods to your reef than it is to inoculate it with “good” bacteria. An aquarist might add pods in your reef to “seed” it and establish a reproductive population. They might also boost pod populations from time to time by making regular additions (perhaps by subscription). How would you know if you needed more pods in your reef? Are there not many pods visible on the glass and rocks? Is any unwanted film algae or detritus present? Then yes, your tank is ready for a substantial population boost.

Time for Pods In Your Reef

Tigriopus Copepod in Your Reef
A diversity of “pods” can improve conditions in marine aquaria.

There is never a bad time to seed your reef with pods. However, the best time to seed is when the nitrogen cycle has stabilized in a newly set up system. At this time, nitrate build-ups have very likely resulted in the growth of undesirable benthic algae. Algal films provide a great food source for copepods that have a benthic adult phase (e.g Tigriopus and Tisbe). These unsightly algal growths will decline as the pod population grows. The pod population size will stabilize after nitrate levels (and thus the algal growth rate) have leveled off. It should only make sense that copepods are best added in the earliest stages of a reef aquarium system set-up; they form the base of the food chain in the natural marine environment.

Certain unfortunate events (death/decay of animals within the tank, accidental over-feedings, etc.) can occur. These disturbances may lead to algal plagues down the road. In such cases, pod additions can mitigate many adverse effects (e.g. detritus build-ups, benthic algal blooms). Typically, there is a sizeable accumulation of detritus and algal biomass in a tank that has running for a while. The pod density might skyrocket when first added to a “dirty” system. Once the offending matter has begun to disappear, the pod population will naturally drop back to its former level. Pod numbers might also drop due to predation. A well-developed system will oftentimes house an abundance and diversity of planktivorous livestock. These creatures will surely welcome any number of pods that you might add. Predation is a great way to lose pods!

Feeding your Copepods

A less than ideal way of losing pods is through starvation. It is quite possible for pods to starve in a reef aquarium. This can happen even if there is a rich source of food growing on or settled out over the tank bottom. Why? Because the vast majority of pods undergo a pelagic stage during their development. Often, this is during the larval development phase. At this stage, larval crustaceans (i.e. nauplii) feed heavily upon microalgae suspended in the water column.

There might be some phytoplankton floating about in the aquarium waters. However, much phyto is trapped in mechanical filters or killed in UV sterilizers. This leaves little phyto for the hungry nauplii. In many cases, it is simply not a sustainable arrangement and the pod population crashes. Copepods are incredibly tough and adaptable. Even so, they are ravenous little creatures and must have access to rich food sources to thrive and multiply.

Die-outs such as these are avoidable with the regular addition of live phytoplankton. Frequent “phyto” supplementation also promotes big, stable populations of highly nutritious pods. It is for this very reason that a premium live phyto product (OceanMagik™) is offered in combination with AlgaeBarn pod subscriptions. What is especially important is that the aquarist adds phyto whenever adding pods to their reef system to control. This is especially so when used for benthic algal blooms. It might seem rather counter-intuitive to add algae to get rid of algae. But one should remember that there must be a suitable density of nutritious phytoplankton present for pods to successfully complete their life cycles.

Let Them Eat Pods

One of the most unique—and indeed desirable—aspects of AlgaeBarn live copepod products is that they include individuals in every life stage. This presents numerous advantages. For example, these mixed-life stage products contain individuals of various sizes. Thus, they are immediately useful as food for filter-feeding animals with a broad range of preferred food particle sizes.

But the primary advantage of adding pods of various life stages becomes apparent just after seeding or boosting a reef tank. Large pods are great for feeding, but if you aim to seed your tank to build a population, you want pods of all ages. Products of this kind promote rapid and steady population booms. As they contain individuals in the earliest stages of development, they are best used alongside a live phyto product.

Corals & Pods in Your Reef
Pods can greatly enhance the diet of corals, improving both health and growth rates.

Since the advent of copepods and phytoplankton by subscription, it has never been easier to add pods to your reef aquarium. An aquarist might seed a reef tank with pods to add to their clean-up crew. A subscription for a mix of benthic copepod species (e.g. Poseidon’s Feast) is ideal for this purpose. This product is also great for use in Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR) systems. Aquarists who keep a large number of zooplanktivorous fish or invertebrates may opt for a mix that includes copepods that are planktonic as adults (e.g. 5280 Pods). Both of these products are best utilized in conjunction with live phytoplankton. A subscription to the 5280 Pods & OceanMagik Phyto Combo satisfies these needs efficiently and economically. Now, adding pods to your reef is as simple as pushing a button!