Pods. Phyto. At AlgaeBarn, these are the bread and butter of the reef aquarium diet. And for sure, these two items form the base of most freshwater and marine food chains. Just consider OceanMagik, which is a blend of four distinctly different species of phytoplankton. Or EcoPods, which is a mixed-species (four, to be exact) seed culture of harpacticoid and cyclopoid copepods. In both examples, the particular combination of species is selected to offer both a wide particle size range and a well-balanced nutritional profile. Used together (i.e. the Ecopack Pod & Phyto Combo), these products cover a rather wide swath of the natural coral reef food web. But, is there any room for improvement?
Emphatically, yes. And wherever there is any way AlgaeBarn can improve upon reef aquarium nutrition, they’re on it. Such was the inspiration behind the Ultimate Ecopack. This complete reef food package includes the legendary OceanMagik, the unrivaled EcoPods, plus the PNS Product Combo. The PNS Product Combo itself includes the live bacterioplankton culture PNS ProBio and the simulated marine snow preparation PNS YelloSno.
Cool. So the Ultimate EcoPack includes more food. And because all these items are offered as a package, they are collectively purchased at a significantly reduced price. This is pretty sweet, as quality reef aquarium foods (especially live reef aquarium foods) are never cheap. But, in terms of meeting the overall nutritional needs of your aquarium livestock, is the Ultimate Ecopack greater than the sum of its parts?
Again, emphatically, yes. Citing two major factors (particle size and nutritional content), here’s why.
While all things tiny may seem to us to be a similar size (microscopic is microscopic, right?), the slightest size differences are hugely consequential for a phytoplanktivorous filter-feeder. This is why AlgaeBarn has paid such close attention to particle size. Just look at OceanMagik and compare the smallest species (Nannochloropsis gaditana) of 3-5 microns to the largest (Thalassiosira weissflogii) at 5-32 microns. A sponge might prefer something even smaller than Nannochloropsis whereas as coco worm might prefer something even larger than Thalassiosira.
And it’s all the same for zooplanktivores; a coral might prefer the teeny nauplii (i.e. larvae) of copepods such Oithona whereas a mandarin definitely will prefer the big, juicy adults of Tigriopus.
The addition of the live bacterioplankton (Rhodopseudomonas palustris) in PNS ProBio extends the lower size range size of your aquarium diet down to 1.2-2 microns. In the other direction, the flakes of marine snow in PNS YelloSno can agglomerate into chunks as large as a couple millimeters or more. Just before use, this product may be shaken lightly to keep these huge particles or shaken vigorously to produce tiny particles as desired.
Reef aquarium animals, from fish to corals to clams to foraminiferans, are incredibly diverse. They have dramatically different dietary needs. However, one of the things animals generally have in common is that they’re bad at synthesizing many key dietary substances. Many of these “essential nutrients” therefore must be introduced into their diet. Generally, these substances are produced by bacteria or algae and then are passed down the food chain. For example, phytoplankton synthesize many essential fatty acids, which are subsequently consumed by copepods, which are subsequently consumed by corals, small fish, etc.
The addition of PNS ProBio to the Ecopack adds considerably to the carotenoid profile of the phyto present in OceanMagic; this enhances health (through the introduction of antioxidants, for example) as well as enhancing coloration. These live probiotic bacteria also synthesize powerful antibiotic substances such as streptomycin and have indeed been shown to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as Vibrio. Copepods (especially the heavily bacterivorous Oithona) consume these microbes and pass these substances up the food chain. Even more, these microbes are shown to be selectively taken up by many zooxanthellate corals for use as symbiotic nitrogen-fixers.
As with marine snow in nature, PNS YelloSno benefits reef aquaria in numerous ways. Its primary use, of course, is as a naturalistic food source for suspension feeding animals ranging from many soft corals to tube anemones, feather dusters, etc. This is not your run-of-the-mill detritus; rather, like real marine snow, it is nutritionally enriched (especially through certain microbial activities). Thus, it serves as a highly effective means of delivering protein, polysaccharides, minerals and trace elements.
PNS YelloSno is particularly rich in B vitamins (especially B12), which are in great demand across the board from certain microbes to fishes and corals. The bacteria in PNS ProBio, for example, benefit from the addition of vitamins B1, B7 and B12. There is no known vitamin B12 synthesis in any algal lineage, and perhaps half of all algal species (including both microalgae and macroalgae) absolutely require exogenous vitamin B12 for survival and growth. The normal source of B12 in nature appears to be bacteria, suggesting some important but as-of-yet poorly understood symbiosis.
Due to poor production of bacterioplankton and heavy filtration, captive systems can easily become B12 impoverished; PNS YelloSno helps to correct this issue. It may even be gutloaded into live zooplankton such as copepods, adult brine shrimp, daphnia, etc. just prior to feeding planktivorous fishes.
The Ecopack: Better than before
The best thing about the Ultimate Ecopack is that is cleans up after itself. So many aquarium foods pollute the aquarium water with regular use; the Ultimate Ecopack, in contrast, includes live organisms that help to maintain good water quality. For example, before they are eaten, the live phyto in OceanMagic assimilate ammonia, nitrate and phosphate from the aquarium water. Similarly, the photoheterotrophic bacteria in PNS ProBio assimilate ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and phosphate, but also consume organic wastes as a carbon source.
The live pods in EcoPods? Before they are eaten, they mop up detritus and film algae. If you add them in large enough numbers, and especially if you pamper them with a planted refugium, they can establish permanent populations and contribute to the efforts of your clean-up crew.
Some aquarium food kits are just a bunch of items haphazardly thrown together as a “package deal.” The Ultimate Ecopack, rather, is a complete reef aquarium diet–a comprehensive feeding system–showcasing the best available live and prepared foods. Using these products together as one, you can have the healthiest, cleanest and most diverse reef aquarium imaginable!