The effect of substrate on water quality in ornamental fish tanks

Myriam Vanderzwalmen, Daniel Sánchez Lacalle, Priyadarshini Tamilselvan, Jason McNeill, Dorine Delieuvin, Khadidja Behlouli, Andrew Hursthouse, Iain McLellan, Mhairi E. Alexander, Fiona L. Henriquez, Donna Snellgrove, Katherine A. Sloman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Almost all home aquaria contain substrate, either as intentional enrichment or for aesthetic purposes. For fishes, benefits of structural enrichment have been well considered, particularly in research and aquaculture settings. However, our understanding of the impacts of tank substrate as enrichment is limited. While substrate can induce foraging in some species, a major drawback is the potential of substrate to harbour elevated levels of waste and pathogenic bacteria. Here, we considered whether substrate as a form of environmental enrichment significantly altered water quality and bacterial presence in home aquaria. Water quality (temperature, oxygen, pH, TAN, unionised ammonia, nitrate, Ca2+, Na+, Mg2+ and K+) and bacterial presence (Pseudomonas spp.) were measured over two seven-week periods in stand-alone, tropical, freshwater tanks that simulated home aquaria. The following four enrichment conditions were considered: bare tanks, plastic plants, gravel substrate or sand substrate. The addition of both gravel and sand resulted in increased pH, concentrations of total ammonia nitrogen and nitrate. Substrate was also associated with a greater Pseudomonas presence. Decreased pH alongside an increased concentration of ions were also observed depending on the time of year. In conclusion, enrichment type affected the water quality of home aquaria, with further research needed on the role of the tank biome in fish welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2679
Number of pages14
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2022


  • environmental enrichment
  • gravel substrate
  • home aquaria
  • ornamental fishes
  • sand substrate
  • substrate enrichment
  • ICP
  • ICP-AES: Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission Spectrometry


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