05-01-2010, 12:08 PM
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Agree totally with Mikaila. Fish gasping usually means there is something toxic in the water; it can also be a shortage of oxygen, which would appear to be the likely cause as you have explained things.
As to your initial question, plants photosynthesize in the presence of sufficient light and nutrients; oxygen is the byproduct of photosynthesis, so if the plants are growing they are generating oxygen. In a well planted tank there is considerably more oxygen produced during photosynthesis than the fish and bacteria (another user of oxygen) can use--provided the fish load is in balance. In your case, it appears not to be.
If everything tests OK and the airstone eases the problem, then oxygen is probably the issue and although I wouldn't normally recommend it with plants, in this case it is essential for the fish to live so keep the airstone running. The plants will make do; after all, if the overload of fish is the issue, as it sounds like it is, then the plants will probably have no difficulty getting carbon dioxide with an airstone running as the water may be quite saturated.
This is certainly a critical issue from your description; I hope the larger tank will be ready very soon.