Building your own ecosystem is a fun and educational activity. You can build an aquatic ecosystem in an aquarium or a terrestrial ecosystem in a terrarium, with whatever plants you want. The process is quite simple, but finding the balance between organisms can be a challenge. With trial and error, time and persistence, you can create your own self-sustaining ecosystem.
Method 1 of 4: Building an Aquatic Ecosystem
Step 1. Choose a size for the ecosystem
If you've just started dealing with such constructions, you might prefer something small. The smaller the container, the more difficult it is often to maintain the indoor environment. Larger ones, in turn, allow for the inclusion of several species and give the content enough space to grow. In any case, all containers must be transparent to let in light.
- A small glass bowl is quick to prepare and doesn't take up much space. Smaller bowls are great for beginners as they allow you to experiment with what works best for you. They are more difficult to maintain self-sustaining as there is not much room for growth and content diversity.
- Medium tanks (40 to 120 liters) have more room to grow, but they are also more expensive and still limited in the size they can hold.
- Large aquariums (250 to 800 liters) have plenty of room for growth and diversity of internal content, offering the best chances of success; however, they are very expensive and it is difficult to find space for them.
Step 2. Expose the tank to fluorescent lighting
Fluorescent lamps are important for plant growth in the ecosystem. It is recommended to keep 0.5 to 1 watt per liter of water in a freshwater aquarium.
Incandescent lighting will not aid plant growth
Step 3. Place ecosystem substrate
It is the soil present in the aquarium that will allow the plants to firm and grow. It must be well established in the first place so that the environment allows for the development and recycling of nutrients.
- If using a small bowl, start with an inch of sand and add an inch of gravel over it.
- In medium to large aquariums, start with 2 inches of sand and 2 to 5 inches of gravel on top of it.
- Sand and gravel can be purchased at pet stores or found in a nearby lake.
Step 4. Fill the container with water
It is important because it establishes the first source of food for fish, algae and microorganisms. You can start with distilled or mineral water, non-chlorine tap water, or water from a fish tank or aquarium already on site.
- If you prefer distilled or mineral water or even non-chlorine tap water, mix in a little fish feed to encourage growth.
- Adding water from a tank already present on site also helps with growth, as it already has the essential nutrients.
Step 5. Buy a wide variety of plants
When choosing the plants, you should consider: how fast they grow (how often you should prune them), their size, whether or not they are edible for fish and snails, and where in the aquarium they will grow (from the base, surface, edges). To cultivate a diverse environment, include some of the following:
- Growth from base: Eleocharis parvula, Vallisneria spiralis or Rotala indica.
- Growth from surface: Lemnoidae sp., Lotus sp..
- Edge growth: Riccia Flutans, Taxiphillum barbieri, Vesicularia montagnei or Fissidens fontanus.
- You should allow the plants to settle down (give them time to grow and take root) before adding fish or snails to the ecosystem.
Step 6. Cultivate small animals
The next step in the ecosystem's food chain is to add small animals such as snails, water fleas and micro-planaria. They will serve as food for all fish that do not feed on plants or algae. A good way to prepare the tank is to make use of filters and accessories, which can be purchased at pet stores and specialty stores.
Most of these organisms are not visible to the naked eye, but it is worth waiting at least two weeks for them to fully acclimate before placing the fish
Step 7. Put fish or shrimp into the system
Once the plants and microorganisms are established, you can start introducing the larger fish into the aquarium. It's best to start with smaller organisms such as potbellies, Poecilia endlers or Neocaridina davidi fish, always putting only one or two at a time. Such fish reproduce quickly and serve as an aid to the diet of larger fish.
If you have a large aquarium, you can add fish in larger numbers and varieties. Balancing habitat is often a challenge and takes time, so it is important that each species has time to adjust before adding more to the mix
Method 2 of 4: Maintaining an Aquatic Ecosystem
Step 1. Change the water
Aquariums require a certain amount of maintenance for all organisms to stay alive and well. Every two weeks, 10 to 15% of the aquarium water should be replaced with fresh water. If you are using tap water, let it sit in a bucket outdoors for approximately 24 hours for the chlorine to evaporate.
- Analyze the local water source to determine if heavy metals are present.
- Use filtered water if you have concerns about tap water quality.
Step 2. Control algae growth
The gravel cleaner is a very useful tool to help control algae growth in the aquarium. When changing water, vacuum the gravel while removing excess algae and food that may have accumulated.
- Clean the walls with an aquarium sponge or magnetic brush to prevent algae buildup on the glass.
- Add plants, snails or Poecilia endlers to aid in the organic development of the ecosystem.
Step 3. Take out dead fish immediately
Count the fish at least once a week to determine if any of them have died. The smallest ones can decompose very quickly, causing spikes in the amounts of nitrite, ammonia and nitrate, substances that can be harmful to other fish in the aquarium. If you come across a dead fish, remove it as soon as possible.
- Use a test kit to analyze ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH levels. If they are too high, change the water.
- Optimal values for these components vary depending on the fish you raise. In general, however, you should have a concentration between 0.0 and 0.25 mg/L of ammonia. The pH should be around 6.
Method 3 of 4: Building a Terrestrial Ecosystem
Step 1. Take a large glass bowl with a lid
Any jar or bottle can be useful for this terrarium. However, a container with a large mouth makes it easier to work with what's inside. You must ensure that it can be tightly sealed.
- Some options include: a candy bowl with a heavy lid, a noodle pot, or any glass bowl with a lid.
- The container must be well washed from the start, so that there is no residue before using it as a terrarium.
Step 2. Fill the base with gravel
The layers of gravel at the base of the bowl allow water to sink to the bottom and prevent overgrowth of the plants. Place them to a depth of approximately 2 to 5 cm.
It does not matter what type of gravel to be used. You can even use colored gravel from the pet store to make everything more exciting
Step 3. Cover the cuttings with a layer of activated carbon
It will be important to filter out the impurities present in the water. In addition, it helps to keep the ecosystem clean and healthy, decreasing the burden on materials and fungi. You don't need a very deep layer, just cover the gravel completely.
Activated carbon can be purchased at local pet stores or specialty stores
Step 4. Add approximately 0.5 centimeters of sphagnum to the activated carbon layer
It is a nutrient-rich soil that helps retain water and nutrients needed for plant growth.
Sphagnum can be obtained from local nurseries
Step 5. Put more pot soil over the sphagnum moss
The final layer before placing the plants should be pot soil. Plants will be able to germinate in this soil and obtain the necessary water and nutrients by combining all the layers underneath.
- Put enough soil for the plant roots to grow and have room to develop. A depth greater than the pot the plant came from will suffice.
- Most types of pot soil will serve this purpose. Succulents and cacti require a special type of soil.
Step 6. Add small plants
Any plant you want to add will serve the terrarium, but it is recommended to opt for the smaller ones. Prepare the plants by taking them out of their pots and softening the hard soil around the roots. If there are very long roots, pluck them before planting. Dig a small hole in the soil with a spoon and place the plant's roots in it. Put some soil on top and compress it around.
- Repeat this process with the rest of the chosen plants, taking care to keep the plants away from the edges of the container.
- Keep the leaves from touching the sides of the container as much as possible.
- Some great plant options are: Pilea involucrata, Fittonia sp., caroás, Pilea sp., Acorus gramineus, strawberry begonias, ferns and mosses.
Step 7. Cover the terrarium
Place a lid or stopper at the entrance to the terrarium after adding the plants. It is always better to leave the terrarium in a place that indirectly catches sunlight. The terrarium will dry quickly if you leave it exposed to direct sunlight. On the other hand, plants will also die if they don't get the sun. Prefer an area close to the window.
Method 4 of 4: Maintaining the Terrarium
Step 1. Water the plants only when necessary
The terrarium does not require much care. If you notice that it looks a little dry, open it up and water a little. On the other hand, if there is a lot of moisture inside it, leave it uncovered for a day or two to dry a little.
Step 2. Remove bugs if you notice any
You may have added soil with some insect eggs to your terrarium. If you notice little bugs inside it, remove them and cover the terrarium again.
Step 3. Prune the plants as needed
With enough sunlight and water, plants will grow. If they get too big for the terrarium, you should prune them to prevent them from suffocating. Always keep them the desired size so that they continue to develop normally.
Remove dead plants that have fallen to the ground
Step 4. Clean algae and fungus growing on the site regularly
If algae and fungi grow on the sides of the terrarium, you can easily remove them. Use a soft cloth or cotton ball to remove algae and fungus. You should be able to see what's inside the glass easily.