We talk about a lot of different types of habitats and ecological niches here at Tannin, and an idea occasionally pops into my head that I may not have really thought much of before...and of course, when I think about stuff like that, I get pretty excited.
I was looking at some pictures of a Southeast Asian "peat swamp" the other day, and I noticed some of the plant growth along the shoreline. I was particularly fascinated by the tangles of what, our want of a better word, appeared to be "reeds." I saw these plants extending into the water in massive thickets...and of course, I thought to myself, "I'll bet a ton of fishes live among those! I'll bet that would make a cool aquarium feature, too"
And it turns out, I'm right! (well, about the "tons of fish living there" part, at least!)
The term "reed" is pretty broad, and refers to tall, grass-like plants which inhabit wetlands around the world. Now, wetlands in and of themselves are interesting habitats, and include such obsession-inducing ecological niches as mangrove swamps, varzea, and bogs! Wetlands may be saturated with water either seasonally or permanently, and are home to aquatics AND terrestrial plants. They are among the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems- and as such, are a really fascinating subject for our aquarium work, right?
The water chemistry of wetland habitats is dependent upon the source of the water and the geological material which it flows through, such as the aforementioned peat swamps, bogs, or mangrove swamps. The soils support biological activity and diversity within the aquatic ecosystem, and provide not only a literal "foundation" for plant growth, but a zone in which various microorganisms, insects, and other life forms thrive, forming the basis of a food chain.
As mentioned previously, many are inundated year-round, although some wetlands are ephemeral in nature, such as the varzea in South America, or even some of those temporary pools you find in the plains of Africa, which are home to some of our favorite annual killifishes, such as Nothobranchius!
So, if you're thinking what I'm thinking...and I know that you are- the fact is, there are numerous ways to replicate these types of environments in the aquarium!
You can opt to construct something as faithful to the real thing as possible, really trying to be biologically correct- or you could go for something inspired by these habitats.
I think I'm playing with something like that in my "finally-about-to-get-underway" brackish water mangrove thicket tank...Mangroves are really great plants to play with in such an aquarium, and I've been sprouting some propagules just for this purpose!
And of course, there are those peat swamps from Southeast Asia, which are a very interesting and distinct ecological niche. With a little research, and use of the right plants and materials, faithful recreations of these habitats are totally achievable!
And then, you have regions in South America, such as the Pantanal, in which many grasses and other plants create a very unique habitat.
(Photo by Alicia You, used under CC BY-SA 3.0)
Being the aquarium-related geek that I am, I felt it would be important to source materials which would work to help create the "reeds and grasses" associated with these habitats.
When this bug hit a couple of months back, I hit up a few of my favorite suppliers in Southeast Asia to see if they had any materials which would be useful for this type of aquarium...And of course, they came through with some interesting stuff! One of the materials which we're currently testing, are Lotus stems!
These are really quite lightweight, and probably not the most long-term durable materials to use in an aquatic situation, but they are authentic! We'll see how well they hold up under submersion for a bit longer before releasing them for sale...
The other possibility is to incorporate bamboo sticks into your aquascape. These have been used before, and are definitely an authentic component of these habitats. Bamboo has been used for many years in aquariums in a variety of aquascaping applications.
(Image by flr0002, used under GFDL 1.2)
And of course, we have other types of stems and "reed-like" elements you could use to help recreate this habitat, stuff like Coco Palm stems, which may be used in a "vertical" format. Now, these are not reeds and grasses, of course, but they could evoke the feeling of this niche.
I am fascinated by the possibilities of sourcing riparian plants and grasses, including reeds and other flora, which could help recreate the function and form of these habitats.
Plants such as Spartina and other grasses would be amazing in an aquarium setting, if you could source them and work with them in rich aquatic soils...
Yes, we are literally teasing you with the thought of playing with these habitats, and have provided scant details here- simply because we haven't played with this stuff that much ourselves just yet! However, I think that with all of the materials and new experiments starting to emerge, as well as a strong interest in Estuary by Tannin stuff, we're going to see a lot of cool stuff happening!
So, don[t be afraid to poke around the reeds and grasses of the world for a little aquatic inspiration!
Stay creative. Stay resourceful. Stay experimental. Stay excited...
And Stay Wet.