A confluence of environments...A wellspring of aquarium ideas!

From our earliest days experimenting with botanicals in aquariums, we recognized and, indeed- celebrated- the intersection in nature where land and water meet. I  always found this intersection to be almost "foundational" the work we do in the blackwater/brackish, botanical-style aquarium "genre", because there is something extraordinarily compelling about the ecological realtionship between terrestrial and aquatic habitats...

Oh, and it looks really cool!

Now, more than ever, I'd love to see us as a community start embracing this concept in aquariums. Not just in creating paludariums- displays that encompass both water and land- but in the way we incorporate the botanicals and wood- terrestrial materials- into our aquascapes.

Since we launched "Estuary",  our brackish-water line of natural materials, we've seen more and more interest in the mangrove habitats, which encompass both the aquatic and terrestrial component. You see the complex mangrove prop roots establishing themselves in both the mud and soil of the areas where land and tidal influence merge.

I'm equally fascinated by Asian and Amazonian streams and marginal areas, specifically the areas where land meets the water.  You know, the flooded forests, streams, and other areas where soils and terrestrial plants/leaves, and beaches accumulate. Areas where fishes will migrate into seasonally, following the food and exploiting the physical structures offered by these now-submerged materials for protection, feeding, and spawning locations.

And of course, we can replicate these unique habitats in our aquariums. It's kind of what we've been working with for a while. However, it's really important to think about how these habitats change when they become inundated- and how to create an aquatic display that reflects the evolution from land to water.

Okay, so ripariums...or paludariums...can do this. 

However, I'm thinking that our work would reflect greater emphasis on the aquariums; the aquatic component...not necessarily 50/50 land to water, ya know? I mean, we're fish geeks, right? Would that simply be a "lower water level aquarium display?" Whatever. You can call it what you want to, but the idea of replicating shorelines is compelling to me. And perhaps, building our aquariums as a "rainforest floor" FIRST- then "inundating" it with water; a very good representation of what occurs in nature, right?

This is what frog and her enthusiasts do. And as we've discussed many times before- the idea really would work well for us, as we specialize in studying Gand recreating these amazing interactions. Why is this so important; so influential to us?

Why should we obsess ourselves with them? 

Well, first off, consider the fact that the soils and plants of the terrestrial environment have a direct and significant impact on the aquatic environment. Consider the igarape and igapo habitats- essentially flooded forest floors. Nutrients from the soils, and the materials which accumulate there- become an important component of the now aquatic habitat.

The plants which grow along the waterline in these habitats provide shade, protection from aerial predators, and the occasional fruit or seed pod, which fishes utilize for food, shelter, or foraging. This is something "fundamental" to us as botanical aquarium lovers- the idea that materials from the surrounding forests wind up in the water, benefitting our fishes in so many ways.

And I think it would be really cool to study more about the types of tropical plants which grow in both "dry" and "flooded" conditions. It would really be amazing to utilize them in our displays- an incredible simulation of nature! We've seen some of this already in the hobby; I'd like to see more work along these lines!

These plants could be very important as "functional" components of our aquascapes. Terrestrial insects inhabit these plants and grasses, often falling into the water, providing a food source for many different small fishes. With some of their larvae often having an "aquatic phase", this makes some of these insects a sort of "on-site" supplemental food production source!

Of course, no discussion of this idea would be complete without giving some love to the amazing work that some of our friends in the vivarium world do. Specifically, the use of  tree fern "mats", lichen, Sphagnum and other mosses and such to create a sort of "rainforest" background for their work. These are spectacular, especially when planted with bromeliads, orchids, etc.

What cues can we take from them?

I think utilizing these materials on the "topside"- even in "almost full" aquariums, would really reinforce the water/land relationship and create a dramatic aesthetic. Who has had long-term experience with some of these materials (specifically, the dried lichens and mosses) when partially submerged?

I realize some may gradually (or perhaps, NOT so gradually) break down in an aquatic environment...they will definitely add some sort of "tint" to the water...I know this from playing with them in the past in displays.

When we talk about plants, it certainly doesn't have to be as high concept as what our frog and vivarium friends do in their displays. 


I'm thinking that just having some plants like Philodenron, etc. "rooting" in the water, with their extensive root tangles, creates the sort of vibe we're talking about, while providing "functional" benefits of nutrient absorption, etc. for the aquarium.

We could utilize some of the commercially available riparium planters, or simply let them "dangle" in our tanks, to create a cool look.

The idea of using terrestrial soils in aquariums in our substrates is something we've touched on several times. Our planted tank friends have a lot of experience with this. I'd like to see us utilize these soil mixes to accent the "above and below" of our displays.

Combinations of these materials (contained in various ways) could create an interesting functional AND aesthetic terrestrial component that could influence the water chemistry and ecological diversity of our systems.

Our vivarium friends commonly cultivate organisms such as "Springtails" in their natural displays to provide supplemental food sources for their frogs and other animals living in their enclosures. We can take some cues here, and "inoculate" our "land/water matrix" with some insects, such as wingless fruitlfiles, worms, etc. to create an "onsite" supplemental food source.

Of course, we could use a refugium inline -as has been done for decades in reef aquariums- to accomplish this as well. However, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea of using a "terrestrial" component in our systems is kind of cool, IMHO! 

I mean, some of you may not like the look of creepy, crawly insects around your aquarium (and your "significant other" may not, either!), so the "out of site" refugium may be a better call for many of us! Yet, conceptually, incorporating living food resources into our aquariums is a very interesting step. 

Replicating the interaction of the land and water in a display is by no means "revolutionary" or "new." However, the idea of doing this in a "full" or "near full" aquarium is a little twist on the paludarium theme, and creates some new challenges AND benefits for the aquarist. New avenues to explore.

We'll have to think about how to contain soils, mosses, etc. in a relatively "full" display, and to mentally "shift" to understand and appreciate that the absolute interaction between both environments is part of the game. It's a direct cue from nature, and something which is just begging for us to understand and replicate in our aquariums! 

The opportunity here is not only to create a realistic, compelling display- it's to further unlock some of the secrets of nature and study the interactions between land and water.  It's about incorporating function into our displays, and appreciating the aesthetics which accompany it!

What cool ideas about terrestrial habitats have you thought of, and how would you incorporate some of them into your display?

The discussion- and discovery- begins now!

Stay inspired. Stay curious. Stay studious. Stay innovative. Stay adventurous... 

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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