Dinoflagellates are protists, an organism that can function as a plant and an animal at the same time. Some dinoflagellates eat other protozoa; some generate energy through photosynthesis; some can do both. In the wild, there are about 1,700 different kinds of marine dinoflagellates and 200 freshwater kinds. They are important part of the food chain, providing nourishment for other sea creatures. In a natural environment, they're a crucial member of the ecosystem.
Unfortunately, dinoflagellates quickly become a nuisance in an aquarium environment.
Dinoflagellates quickly overrun the surface in your aquarium because there is no specific ecosystem for them to survive. Depending on the conditions, dinoflagellates can multiply up to a million cells in one milliliter of water in just a short period of time. The bigger the population, a higher chance that it will make the water toxic and can kill other life form inside your tank. So, it's important to control dinoflagellate population as early as possible before it occupies every space inside your aquarium.
It's not like you're going to go to the store and buy some dinos to dump into your tank; these pests are introduced to your tank accidentally. Your tank can get this from food, corals, rocks, and other aquatic plants. Dinos are very resilient because it can live without eating anything for a long time unlike any other life form like algae.
Nutrients are present in your tank which gives energy to fishes and plants. Even though your tank lacks nutrients, dinos can still survive. It is possible for your tank to have dinos if the nitrates and phosphates level in your aquarium is so close to zero. It is important to regularly check your tank before it becomes too late. Better to be sure, because dinos can look a lot like cyanobacteria or other kinds of algae to the untrained eye.
The best way to approach your dino problem is to first figure out what kind of dino has moved into your aquarium.
The most common dinoflagellate (or "dino" for short) to see in an aquarium is a slimy, stringy brown variety, commonly known as Brown Slime Algae. Most aquarium enthusiasts have dubbed it "the brown menace." They're not all brown, though. They also come in white, yellow, and various shades of green.
In more technical terms, there are four main dinoflagellates you'll see in your aquarium:
Some of the things all of these guys have in common is that they:
Here's an easy test you can do to determine if you have algae or dinos:
Eventually, dinoflagellates will regroup after they've been filtered. Algae will remain separated. So, if the strands of go show up, you know you have dinos!
Dinos aren't necessarily a bad thing. When there aren't too many of them, they're part of the ecosystem. But if you provide an ultra low nutrient tank with no biodiversity, they'll make themselves known quickly. The best way to tackle them varies on how bad your case is.
How to Deal with Dinos:
Biodiversity is a major reason why new tanks get dinos when they hit low nutrient conditions. A biodiverse tank has multiple organisms that compete with dinos and keep them from thriving. When choosing the type of rock you are going to use, keep biodiversity in mind. You can choose between live rock and complete dry rock or a hybrid.
Dry rock is devoid of biodiversity while in a live rock tank you don’t usually see dinos. It is hard for them to multiply because there too many competitors even in a low nutrient environment.
The problem will be the availability of the live rock because it is quite hard to find nowadays and is expensive too boot.
Snails encourage dinoflagellates to settle in and make your tank their home. Well, they don't actually do it when they're alive: a dead snail is a feast for a population of dinoflagellate. Dinos will wreck havoc on an invert population. Anything that attempts to eat it can be poisoned to death and the toxins they release will kill most inverts including microfauna. Make sure you're removing any dead snails, fish, and corals from the tank. Because it's hard to tell if your snails are alive, the most foolproof way to prevent that is by removing of the snails altogether. Once your dino problem is under control, they can be returned to the tank.
A couple of specific nutrient-related things you can monitor and manage in your tank are:
A tank that is starved for nutrition can cause a dino population to pop up too. Usually this situation comes about when you make some major change to the landscape or population of your tank, and the food shortage is abrupt. Dinos don't actually need that much physical food to eat, especially since most are also photosynthetic. So, if other bacteria or phytoplankton in your tank die out from lack of nutrients, it removes the dinoflagellate's primary competition and gives them room to thrive.
Quality equipment is important for the overall health of your tank, whether it's a 10 gallon aquarium or a 100-gallon aquarium. While there are several factors that help dinoflagellates take over, a poor equipment planning controlling parameters tops the list.
When dying, dinoflagellates release toxins into your water. So, it's essential to purify the water consistently, both during and after your dinoflagellate infestation.
Here are a few suggestions to help setup and maintain a proper tank: