Consistency. The obvious, yet not always considered success factor.


You hear the term mentioned in pretty much every field of human endeavor: Sports, investing, education, nutrition, business, personal fitness, blah, blah, blah...

And of course, it's a concept perfectly applicable to aquarium keeping. Absolutely.

Yet we don't really talk about it much. Or think about it...except maybe when something goes wrong. Case in point- last week, I had a conversation with a fellow hobbyist who had a tank that was amazing for years, only to start declining rapidly over the past couple of months for "no apparent reason."

It wasn't until we discussed it thoroughly, as fish buddies do, that it was apparent that his once stable aquarium was declining because of some rather subtle, yet immediately obvious changes to his maintenance routines. It just took  a little bit of "talking it out" with a "third party" (i.e.; me) for him to see that the obvious cause was a much longer period of time between water changes and a less consistent filter media change-out schedule.

Ahh, there it was again. Consistency.

Consistency is a trait that can not only make you a better aquarist- it can create a better aquarium! It applies to virtually every area of the aquarium hobby: Environmental parameters, equipment choices, feeding, livestock selection, maintenance, and procedures, just to mention a few.

Consistent habits create consistent environmental parameters, without a doubt. A prime example would be the achievement and maintenance of consistent environmental parameters with regular maintenance procedures, such as water changes, dosing schedules, and lighting photoperiods. As you've heard me mention ad nauseum here, natural rivers, lakes, and streams, although subject to seasonal variations and such, are typically remarkably stable physical environments, and fishes and plants, although capable of adapting to environmental changes, have really evolved over eons to grow in consistent, stable conditions.

That's at least part of the reason why you hear the environmental groups freaking out about ocean acidification, temperature fluctuations, sewage dumping into riveters  and other things that negatively impact or otherwise challenge the stability of the aquatic environment.

I'm not saying to get obsessed over every single parameter in your aquarium. I don't really care exactly what your nitrate reading is- and to some degree, your fishes really don't, either. The important thing is to keep the range of fluctuation limited. This is a management habit I developed over decades in reef keeping, and it's always served my freshwater efforts well, too. And i don't want to sound insulting that I seem to be "preaching" the obvious, but it's surprising how often I hear about "tank issues" from fellow hobbyists  who are looking for every obscure cause of their problem, when the answer is right in front of them. It's easy to miss...but vitally important.


In the botanical-influenced, low alkalinity/low pH blackwater environment, consistency is really important. Although these tank are surprisingly easy to manage and run over the long haul, consistency is a huge part of what keeps these speciality systems running healthily and happily for extended periods of time. It wouldn't take too much beginning neglect or even a little sloppiness in husbandry to start a march towards a very low pH and its associated problems. Although this specific inconsistency-related problem is unique to this type of tank, the concept of detrimental environmental changes caused by inconsistency apply to every type of aquarium.

I'm mainly concerned about the basic parameters- like pH, alkalinity, nitrate, (ammonia and nitrate are ones we shouldn't even be discussing, right?)...

Other parameters, such as phosphate, have less significant, yet noticeable, impacts if allowed to fluctuate more than just a few 'clicks." Phosphate swings of more than a couple of ppm, or even less in many instances, can result in the appearance of nuisance algae growth in otherwise pristine systems, and, at the very least, should "tip you off" to some deficiency within your system and its maintenance regime. What's the key to smoothing out these fluctuations?

Consistency. Regular maintenance. Scheduled water changes. The usual stuff. Nothing magic here. 

Nothing that you, as an experienced hobby don't already know. Right?

Just looking at your tank and its inhabitants will be enough to tell you if something is amiss. More than one advanced aquarist has only half-jokingly told me that he or she can tell if something is amiss with his/her tank simply by the "smelI!" get it- excesses of biological activities do often create conditions that are detectible by scent! 

So takeaway from this: It's important to at least have some sort of "working relationship" with your test kits. Really.

I need not point out the necessity of keeping temperature in tight check. Sure, you might see a day/night fluctuation of a degree or two (or even three), but get much outside of that range and your'e looking at a potentially stressful situation for many fishes. And stress, as you know, can lead to lower resistance, disease, and even death, if left unaddressed.  Again, not unknown, but often overlooked in our search for a bigger problem when something goes wrong...Pick a number that works for you and your fishes, and do your best to keep it in a very close range.

The point here is that consistent environmental parameters yield more controllable, easier-to-manage systems, with happier, healthier fishes. They minimize the need to constantly adapt to a changing environment- a key cause of stress in captive animals adapted over the eons to live in relatively consistent environmental conditions. Stress is one of the most underrated, yet most common, killers of captive aquatic animals. Yet, ironically, stress is one of the more easily controllable health issues if you adapt- you got it- a consistent approach to your husbandry and water quality management. Kind of a no-brainer, but something that we tend to forget at times in our busy aquarium lives...

So, without further "beating a dead seahorse", I think we can successfully make the argument that consistency in all manner of aquarium-keeping endeavors can only help your animals. Keeping a stable environment is not only humane- it's playing into the very strength of our animals, by minimizing the stress of constantly having to adapt to a fluctuating environment. As one of our local Southern California hobbyists likes to say "Stability Promotes Success."

Who could argue with that?

I'm sure that you can think of a few other ways that consistency in our fish-keeping habits can help promote more healthy, stable aquariums.  Don't obsess over this stuff, but do give some thought to the discussion here; think about consistency, and how it applies to your animals, and what you do each day to keep a consistent environment in your systems.

So, man the siphon hose, check your lighting timers, break out a test kit now and then. Stuff you already know to do. Stay inquisitive. Stay rational. Stay consistent. And most important-

Stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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