Do you find that, the longer you're into this hobby niche, the more obsessed you get about other arcane and unusual ideas?
Yeah, that's me.
Especially, when it comes to the concept of food production within our botanical-style aquariums. Yes, food production. If you really observe your tank closely- and I'm sure that you do- you'll see your fishes foraging on the botanicals...picking off something.
I've noticed, during times when I've traveled extensively and haven't been around to feed my fishes, that they're not even slightly slimmer upon my return, despite not being fed for days sometimes...
What are they eating in my absence?
Well, there are a number of interesting possibilities.
Perhaps most interesting to us blackwater/botanical-style aquarium people are epiphytes. These are organisms which grow on the surface of plants or other substrates and derive their nutrients from the surrounding environment. They are important in the nutrient cycling and uptake in both nature and the aquarium, adding to the biodiversity, and serving as an important food source for many species of fishes.
In the case of our fave aquatic habitats, like streams, ponds, and inundated forests, epiphytes are abundant, and many fishes will spend large amounts of time foraging the "biocover" on tree trunks, branches, leaves, and other botanical materials.
The biocover consists of stuff like algae, biofilms, and fungi. Although most animals use leaves and tree branches for shelter and not directly as a food item, grazing on this epiphytic growth is which occurs on them is very important.
In the wild habitats, some organisms, such as nematodes and chironomids ("Bloodworms!") will dig into the leaf structures and feed on the tissues themselves, as well as the fungi and bacteria found in and among them. These organisms, in turn, become part of the diet for many fishes.
And the resulting detritus produced by the "processed" and decomposing pant matter is considered by many aquatic ecologists to be an extremely significant food source for many fishes, especially in areas such as Amazonia and Southeast Asia, where the detritus is considered an essential factor in the food webs of these habitats.
And of course, if you observe the behavior of many of your fishes in the aquarium, such as characins, cyprinids, Loricarids, and others, you'll see that, in between feedings, they'll spend an awful lot of time picking at the aforementioned "stuff" on the leaves, stems, and pods within the tank. In a botanical-style aquarium, this is a pretty common occurrence, and I believe it's an extremely important "side benefit" of this type of system!
I believe that a botanical-style aquarium, complete with its decomposing leaves and seed pods, can serve as a sort of "buffet" for many fishes- even those who's primary food sources are known to be things like insects and worms and such. Gut-content analysis of many fishes in the wild confirms this. Detritus and the organisms within the aquarium can provide an excellent supplemental food source for our fishes!
In the wild habitats, it's interesting to note that, where materials fall from the trees and surrounding dry areas, the greater the abundance of fishes and other aquatic animals which utilize them is found. That makes sense.
And materials will continue to fall into the water and accumulate throughout the year, maintaining the richness of the habitat as others decompose or are acted on by the organisms residing in the water- from fungi to fishes!
Not unlike an aquarium, where we are replacing the botanicals as they break down, right?
Again, it's that idea about the "functional aesthetics" of the blackwater, botanical-style aquariums. The idea which acknowledges the fact that the botanicals we use not only look cool, but they provide an important function (supplemental food production) as well.
Perhaps arcane- but certainly not insignificant.
Consider that the next time you toss some more botanicals into your aquarium! You're not just adding to the "look"- you're contributing to the abundance within the system!
Stay observant. Stay thoughtful. Stay patient. Stay creative...
And Stay Wet.