I spend a tremendous amount of time focusing on specific habitats and ideas to recreate them in the aquarium, and few have proven as popular- or alluring- as the flooded forest floors of Amazonia. We've visited these habitats multiple times in our blog, and done some discussion on the fishes and animals which reside in them during the periods of inundation (which is usually around September to the end of May).
When the forests flood, the sandy soils are carpeted in aggregations of botanical detritus, root tangles, fallen logs, leaves, bark, etc. from the formerly dry forest floor. This is, of course, the stuff we as botanical-style blackwater aquarium enthusiasts are most interested in. One of the key components of this habitat, from a "structural/spatial" sense, is the presence of logs, branches, and roots from fallen trees.
We see many aquariums which feature wood and leaves, of course. However, I think we don't see a tremendous use of smaller branches, roots, and "twig-sized" pieces, and I think that is something we would definitely like to see more of in our aquariums. There is something remarkably realistic about the presence of these smaller materials in an aquarium. The complexity and additional "microhabitats" they create are compelling and interesting. And they are very useful for shelling baby fishes, breeding Apistogramma, Poecilocharax, catfishes, Dicosssus, an other small, shy fishes which are common in these habitats.
Now, small root bundles and twigs are not traditionally items you can find at the local fish store or online. I mean, you can, but there hasn't been a huge amount of demand for them in the aquascaping world lately...although my 'scape scene contacts tell me that twigs are becoming more and more popular with serious aquascapers for "detailed work"...so this bodes well for those of us with less artistic, more functional intentions!
And I think we are starting to see more adventurous use of different materials, such as Catappa bark and even the long-fiber peat lookalike, "Cutch Tree Bark", to more accurately simulate these habitats.
These materials are very reminiscent of the stuff we would find in flooded forest-floor habitats. In fact, as aquarists, I can't help but think that we'd be very well-served to study descriptions, pics, and videos of rain forest floors when they are not inundated, to get an idea of the composition of materials present, the "topography", and the overall aesthetics of what become an underwater habitat for up to 8 months or more.
I encourage you to study the work of herp and frog enthusiasts, and visit websites of inspirational vendors like my friend Paulie Dema's "Vivariums in The Mist"- for all sorts of ideas on how these habitats work. You're sure to find some cool ideas from our terrestrial-centric friends in the vivarium world. It's such a logical starting point that I kick myself for not doing this many years ago. These hobbyists are well known for creating functional and aesthetic displays which replicate the rain forest floor habitat. They've studied it, embraced it...loved it...and the inspiration is there for the taking!
With our emphasis on leaf litter accumulation, seed pods, and the like- and with more and more of our community really studying the underwater photos and videos of guys like Ivan Mikolji, David Sobry, and Mike Tuccinardi, and not being as hesitant to "go deep" and utilize deeper beds and greater quantities of leaves and other botanicals in our displays, we're starting to see more realistic aesthetic and functional representations of these habitats.
think that taking a cue from the serious aquascapers and start playing more an more with those little details...those little roots, smaller botanical pieces, etc.- which really complete a scene and create that sense of scale, intricacy, and authenticity.
With our "mental shift" that embraces the use of a melange of botanical materials, breaking down and recruiting some biofilms and such- just like in nature- I think we're on the verge of seeing some truly remarkable displays emerging, with greater functional and aesthetic authenticity than has previously been seen. The "talent pool" of botanical-style blackwater aquarium enthusiasts is growing weekly, and more and more interesting ideas are being tested.
It's a very exciting time for creativity, innovation, and study of the diverse and exciting aquatic habitats of the world. And the opportunity to create work which influences, inspires, and advances the state of the art in aquarium keeping has never been greater!
Stay excited. Stay innovative. Stay daring. Stay diligent...
And Stay Wet.