NEWS FLASH: Not everyone likes the stuff that we do.
I suppose that there are occasional smirks and giggles from some corners of the hobby when they initially see our tanks, with some thinking, "Really? They toss in a few leaves and they think that the resulting sloppiness is "natural", or some evolved aquascaping technique or something?"
Funny thing is that, in reality, it IS a sort of an evolution, isn't it? A little advancement from where we are in the hobby before.
I mean, sure, on the surface, this doesn't seem like much: "Toss botanical materials in aquariums. See what happens." It's not like no one ever did this before. And to make it seem more complicated than it is- to develop or quantify "technique" for it (a true act of human nature, I suppose) is probably a bit humorous.
Yeah, I guess I can see that...
On the other hand, the idea behind this practice is not just to create a cool-looking tank...And, we DO have some "technique" behind this stuff...
And it's not about making excuses for abandoning aquarium "best practices" as some justification for allowing our tanks to look like they do.
We don't embrace the aesthetic of dark water, a bottom covered in decomposing leaves, and the appearance of biofilms and algae on driftwood because it allows us to be more "relaxed" in the care of our tanks, or because we think we're so much smarter than the underwater-diorama-loving, hype-mongering competition aquascaping crowd.
Well, maybe we are? 😆 (I promise to keep dissing these people until they put their vast skills to better use in the hobby...Sorry, lovers of underwater beach seems and "Hobbit forests..".)
I mean, we're doing this stuff for a reason: To create more authentic-looking, natural-functioning aquatic displays for our fishes. To understand and acknowledge that our fishes- and their very existence- is influenced by the habitats in which they have evolved.
We've mentioned ad nauseum here that wild tropical aquatic habitats are influenced greatly by the surrounding geography and flora of their region, which in turn, have considerable influence upon the population of fishes which inhabit them, as well as their life cycle. The simple fact of the matter is, when we add botanical materials to an aquarium and accept what occurs as a result-regardless of wether our intent is just to create a different aesthetic, or perhaps something more- we are to a very real extent replicating the processes and influences that occur in wild aquatic habitats in Nature.
The presence of botanical materials such as leaves in these aquatic habitats is foundational to their existence.
And, understanding why leaves fall, and what happens to the environment when they do, is really important.
In the tropical species of trees, the phenomenon of "leaf drop" is hugely important to the surrounding forest environment. Vital nutrients are typically bound up in the leaves, so a regular release of leaves by the trees helps replenish the minerals and nutrients in the soils which are typically depleted from eons of leaching into the surrounding forests.
And the rapid nutrient depletion, by the way, is why it's not healthy to burn tropical forests- the release of nutrients as a result of fire is so rapid, that the habitat cannot process it, and in essence, the nutrients are lost forever.
Now, interestingly enough, most tropical forest trees are classified as "evergreens", and don't have a specific seasonal leaf drop like the "deciduous" trees than many of us are more familiar with do...Rather, they replace their leaves gradually throughout the year as the leaves age and subsequently fall off the trees.
So, what's the implication here?
There is a more-or-less continuous "supply" of leaves falling off into the jungles and waterways in these habitats, which is why you'll see leaves at varying stages of decomposition in tropical streams. It's also why many leaf litter banks may be almost "permanent" structures within some of these bodies of water!
And, for the fishes and other organisms which live in, around, and above the litter beds, there is a lot of potential food, which varies somewhat between the "wet" and "dry" seasons and their accompanying water levels. The fishes tend to utilize the abundant mud, detritus, and epiphytic materials which accumulate in the leaf litter as food. During the dry seasons, when water levels are lower, this organic layer compensates for the shortage in other food resources.
During the higher water periods, there is a much greater amount of allochthonous input (remember that shit?) from the surrounding terrestrial environment in the form of insects, fruits, and other plant material. I suppose that, in our aquariums, it's pretty much always the "wet season", right? We tend to top off and replace decomposing leaves and botanical more-or-less continuously.
We see leaves as a sort of "consumable" in our hobby sector- materials that you need to replace regularly- much like carbon, food, or filter pads.
Now, of course, where is where I get into what I will call "speculative environmental biology!"
What if we stopped replacing leaves and even lowered water levels or decreased water exchanges in our tanks to correspond to, for example, the Amazonian "dry season" (June to December)? What impacts on the environmental parameters of our tanks would this have? And if you consider that many fishes tend to spawn in the "dry" season, concentrating in the shallow waters, could this have implications for stimulating breeding?
Could this be a re-thinking or re-imagining of how we spawn and rear some of our fishes?
Could all of this playing around with leaves and twigs be more of a "technique" than the hobby has previously thought?
I'm thinking so!
Stay thoughtful. Stay bold. Stay diligent. Stay experimental. Stay curious...
And Stay Wet.