11-27-2009, 11:15 PM
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During the first few weeks of the aquariums life, obviously testing for ammonia and nitrite are critical. However, for long term success, I personally believe that testing for alkalinity, calcium, and nitrate are your biggest concerns.
Nitrate will hopefully remain at or near zero, especially in systems with a deep sand bed and adequate amounts of live rock to provide effective denitrification.
Alkalinity and calcium are the best indicators of the FUTURE stability of your tank. They are leading indicators, so to speak, that provide you with information about your tank BEFORE problems arise. Many hobbyists make the mistake of testing only for pH, which only gives you information after problems have already presented. Testing for alkalinity and calcium allows you to make adjustments on a routine basis, by simply adding a buffer and calcium supplement, or doing a water change when test results indicate the need.
I personally test alkalinity and calcium weekly in my 54 reef and 180 FOWLR. I aim to keep alkalinity at 8 - 12dkh, and calcium at 4000-460ppm.