I like a good mix of botanicals...I really do. And of course, we offer a big variety of them!
However, one of the things I realized is that it's never great to have your tank filled with too many different botanicals. Why?
Well, while it's true that in nature, on first examination, you'll see a large amount and variety of plant materials accumulated on the bottom of rivers and streams, upon closer examination, you'll find that there are typically just a few varieties of materials (leaves, usually) that comprise the majority of the litter bed.
So it got me to thinking...In the confines of the the aquarium, would it make more sense to create your bottom litter bed/botanical "accumulation zone" with a smaller variety of items (say, a maximum of 6-10 botanicals, or less)?
I think it would, because not only will it look a lot better- "too much "stuff" is just "too much stuff" in an aquarium. It's kind of distracting to me to see 30 different elements in a 20 gallon tank, you know? In addition to being aesthetically displeasing, having too much diversity in a small area like an aquarium doesn't accurately represent the leaf litter environments as they are found in nature, and provides little other benefit, IMHO.
Now, diversity of materials is one thing, but the diversity of associated benthic life forms within a wild leaf litter bed is quite another!
In one study (Rueda-Delgado, Wantzen, Tolosa, 2006), almost 40 species of invertebrates ( Chironomidae, Trichoptera, and Ephemeroptera) were identified in a small sampling of Amazonian leaf litter from a stream near Leticia, Columbia. Other studies have indicated that both invertebrate and fish population densities and diversity were loosely tied to the diversity, composition, and breakdown rates of the leaf litter bed! The fishes "follow the food", and the insects and invertebrates they feed on follow the leaves!
(Awesome underwater India pic by Sumer Tiwari!)
Interesting, I think!
So, what does this mean to you, the aquarist, who is trying to replicate a leaf litter bed in your aquarium?
Well, for one thing, it means that if you have a greater diversity of species, you could probably see a greater diversity of botanicals. On the other hand, we're not trying to replicate a leaf litter bed to scientific perfection- we're just talking about what looks good aesthetically. Drawing from nature, it is interesting that, time and again in various studies I found, there are typically only 6-10 different species of leaves and/or seed pods, etc. in given tracts of streams...which seems to correspond well with the variety of materials we provide in our variety packs (that was NOT a coincidence, BTW!)!
Less is actually more, in this case! Our office tank, which a lot of Tannin fans seem to enjoy, has a surprisingly low diversity of different botanicals...rather, it relies on the variety of the textures and colors within just a few botanicals to provide that interest...which it does to pretty good effect, iMHO!
So, bringing this all together, it has always been my opinion that you shouldn't overdo stuff. I mean, I think you could make a case that a tank with like 15 different botanicals in the mix is a simulation of an Amazonian Igarape or an Asian stream in the rainy season, with a lot of accumulating material. However, for the typical tank, I think it looks better to limit the botanicals just a bit.
We probably aren't going to be releasing water-borne insects and inverts in our display tanks (although I'd love to see the Amazonian shrimp, Pseudopalaemon amazonensis, in our tanks one day!) right now. However,"setting the stage" would be cool...And boy, I am fascinated by the idea of those Amazonian shrimp! In the mean time, the "Amano Shrimp" makes a faithful substitute!
And, as for species diversity and its relationship to botanicals and the prey items of the fishes...well, it's an interesting study, but probably not something we'll be doing a ton of work with in the near future...
Although, the idea of a freshwater version of a marine "refugium", with leaf litter instead of macroalage, and aquatic insects/inverts instead of copepods and such, is intriguing, and may be worth investigating...Oh, my, now I think I'm on to something, lol!
Here we go again...me chasing down another kooky idea! Who's gonna jump on that one?
Until next time, think about nature, continue providing the best possible environment for your fishes...
And Stay Wet!