Replicate, or represent? And does it matter which?


The other day, I had an interesting discussion with a hobbyist, who enters some of those online aquscaping competitions, and is really into the whole scene. He was a bit bent because some of the authorities in that world were telling him and other entrants in no uncertain terms that their entries were not true “biotope” aquariums, because they did not use the exact plants, fish combinations, or other aquscaping components that were exact and specific to the location being represented.

It made me think about this..I mean, to a certain extent, the judges were spot-on, but the argument could also be made that they need to “lighten up” a bit, I think. We're a bit too serious, IMHO. It's about fun, remember?

Here I go, playing with semantics again...and to what avail, I'm not certain, lol.

From everything I’ve read, when we create a “biotope aquarium”, it’s supposed to be a representation of a specific locale or environmental niche…that’s generally agreed with little debate. Notice the key word here- “representation”- which seems to give some uber-orthodox purists a headache. By definition, a representation is “..the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.”  Nowhere in that definition do you see the word “replication,”  which is defined as “…the action of copying or reproducing something.”- a far more rigid definition, wouldn’t you agree?

And I think both sides in this debate have valid points. I mean, if you’re in a competition to see who can most closely replicate the Rio Negro Biotope, it goes without saying that you should utilize only plants, animals, and materials native to that specific locale. On the other hand, if you’re trying to see who can create the nicest representation of the Rio Negro, that leaves the door open for certain “artistic liberties” on behalf of the aquarist. He or she could use materials that evoke the biotope in question, and suggest a specific environment.

So, I think that it boils down to this: If you’re going to hold a contest and critique entrants based on their authenticity, you need to be rather specific in your entry requirements, and explain if you’re looking for a representation or a replication- because, as we’ve seen- there is a significant difference. And of course, if you’re going to enter such a competition, make sure that you know what’s expected of you!

As a company, we love to offer stuff for hobbyists to use to create beautiful representations of natural locales. Since we can’t know the exact locale in which every single aquatic botanical, wood piece, or rock was collected, it would be easy for us to say that our botanicals and such are great for creating representations- not “replications!”

Does it really matter? And haven’t I used the terms almost interchangeably in my ramblings and website copy? 

No and Yes, respectively..LOL

So as a closing argument,  I submit to you a little though on the Rio Negro, one of my favorite biotopes to replicate- er, represent, er…Well…

The Rio Negro’s water is extremely poor in mineral content, with conductivity as low as 8 µS, and is extremely acidic, with pH’s ranging from 2.9 to 4.5. The largest blackwater river in the world, the Rio Negro basin is home to over 685 described species Characiformes and Siluriformes represent nearly 74% of the species in the region. More than 90 species are considered endemic to the Rio Negro basin. Cool stuff.

In other words, if you love Tetras, this is the biotope to replicate. But guess what? “Replicating” would be kind of impractical, right?  We’re pretty certain that no one out there is looking to create a 2.9pH biotope aquarium, but you might want to get “in the ballpark”, so to speak, by creating a system with say, a 5.8-6.8 pH that’s pretty damn good,  and far more manageable from a  hobby standpoint.


So in the end, does it matter to you as a hobbyist wether or not you’re creating the EXACT conditions, down to the last detail, of a specific biotope- or simply creating a really cool representation of said biotope?

Your call.

Until next time...Relax, and enjoy the a way that makes you happy!

And Stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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