I know we've talked about food webs" in our botanical-influenced aquariums, and some of us are starting to experiment with incorporating items like small aquatic crustaceans and works (e.g., Daphnia and "Black Worms") into our "pre-stocking" regimens, and this is creating some interesting results!
What interests me is the long-term "functionality" of our botanical aquariums, not just from an environmental perspective, but from the standpoint of supplemental food production. We read a lot about fungal and microbial growth of organisms in the leaf and botanical beds we create. Obviously, some fishes utilize these materials as part of their diets at some points in their lives.
We've postulated that fry will certainly make use of many appropriately-sized organisms which occur naturally. We may, at some future point, even get a feel for which botanical materials can do the best job at fostering these sorts of populations...perhaps, a different way entirely to look at the way we select and employ botanicals in our systems.
I can't help but wonder if our botanical tanks, simply by virtue of the fact that they have accumulations of decomposing plant materials, foster a significant enough of a population of "edible" microorganisms for fry to consume. In theory, I'd think so. However, the aquarist in me can't help but think that we should also consider stocking our aquariums with cultures of organisms like Paramecium and various "infusoria" at various times during the "startup" phase of our aquarium to sort of "kickstart" the populations, if reproduction of fishes is our goal.
And of course, part of me wonders if having a larger and more diverse population of microorganisms as "consumers" would make a more diverse and efficient aquarium. Now, with many of us playing with materials like palm fronds of late, I can't help but wonder if, both by virtue of their surface area AND their composition, that these support larger populations of both "food" microorganisms and beneficial bacteria for denitrification.
In addition to looking good, do these materials actually help make for a more stable system from a biological standpoint?
I would imagine that palm fronds provide interesting areas for fry to both shelter and graze upon, so it might not be a bad idea to include them in many aquariums intended to rear fry. Other than taking up physical space, I'm not seeing a huge downside to this...that is, if you're trying to rear fry in a more "natural-type" setup, as opposed to a more sterile, functional breeding setup.
Palm fronds are interesting from a "functional aquascaping" perspective, not only because they serve to foster beneficial life forms (and that thought of surface area for biological filtration), but from a standpoint of demarkation of territory, and serving as natural "flow deflectors", and of course, blocking out some light for fishes that prefer dim conditions (I don't know why Sundanio species keep coming to mind here). I think they remind me very much of a piece of driftwood, in terms of the possibilities to support a population of fishes.
I could envision, because of their large size, yet flexible nature, an entire community" of small fishes, ranging from Angelfish to Bettas to cichlids, to loaches, Badis, and catfishes, living out a large portion of their lives in and among submerged palm fronds. The sense of protection and the easy availability of food could really lead to some interesting, natural behaviors in our fishes...particularly the really small fishes that certain individuals among us favor...
So, a palm frond as a habitat area is most intriguing to me,almost a sort of "freshwater reef", really- and I'm sort of running though my ideas with them in our office aquariumas it runs in.
And I can visualize various behaviors and other aspects of our fishes being influenced by these items in their environment.
Those of you that have also begun experimentation with palm fronds are telling me not only are you intrigued by these ideas as well, you're also loving the aesthetics they bring!
And, because you can arrange them in a sort of "vertical" format, I think they'd be great for fishes like Angelfishes and Discus, which tend to aggregate in areas with these types of features.
I suppose it would be easy for some negative types to simply call our recent infatuation with Palm fronds as a sort of "trend", but the reality is- it's more of an evolution of what we've been doing with botanical aquariums: Incorporating different materials in different ways; evolving both technique and aesthetic as we go. Much groundwork has been laid by hobbyists like Rene Claus and Tai Strietman, who have played with palm fronds for some time, and much credit should be given to them for leading the way!
Like so many things in our evolving world of botanical, blackwater aquariums, embracing natural processes and behaviors is best amplified by embracing natural materials, utilized in different ways.
With form, function, utility- and all sorts of possibilities in between, Palm fronds are hear to stay, in my opinion...And if our fishes (and microbial populations) could talk, I imagine they'd be inclined to agree!
That's a win-win in my book!
Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay experimental.
And Stay Wet.