Botanical movements, breakdowns- and mental shifts...

As lovers of natural, botanical-style aquariums, it seems like we've made great strides in fostering a mental shift in the hobby. This has the benefit of allowing us to let go of some long-held beliefs, ways of doing things, and ideas, in favor of looking at what really happens in Nature and in our aquariums. Rather than avoid something different, simply because "its always been done a certain way" and we don't want to rock the boat, we're opening our minds and going for it! 

Even the aesthetics that we embrace in our natural aquariums are a complete shift in what we've accepted in the past. One of he many things that we enjoy about  leaves, twigs, seed pods and other botanical materials that we love so much around here is that they are extremely versatile (which we've discussed ad infinitum, of course), including simply how they "fall" in our aquascapes, and the impact which they have on our fishes while they're physically present in our aquariums.

If you think about it, the fact that we are understanding of the transience and structure of our botanicals opens us up to some unique aesthetic experiences in our aquariums. Think about this: When you accidentally "redistribute" botanicals in your aquariums during maintenance, unique new "microhabitats" for your fishes are created. A simple thought- but profoundly important, really. And readily apparent to all who play with leaves and botanicals.

This concept also correlates very nicely with my personal experiences, and a number of studies on streams which I've read over the years. I love this topic (and fortunately, hobbyists like you are as geeked-out as I am about it, too!) because it's one of those things that most of us don't even think of vis-a-vis aquariums, and it's only now becoming a "thing" as more of us play with these materials!

In many topical streams, the water depth, and intensity of the flow changes during periods of rain and runoff, creating significant re-distribution of the materials which accumulate on the bottom, such as leaves, seed pods, and the like. Larger, more "hefty" materials, such as submerged logs, etc., will tend to move less frequently, and in many instances, they'll remain stationary, providing a physical diversion for water as substrate materials accumulate around them.

A natural "dam", of sorts, if you will.

Yet, most of the small stuff tends to move around quite a bit... One might say that the "material changes" created by this movement of materials can have significant implications for fishes. In the case of our aquariums, this "redistribution" of material can create interesting opportunities to not only switch up the aesthetics of our tanks, but to provide new and unique little physical areas for many of the fishes we keep.

The benthic microfauna which our fishes tend to feed on also are affected by this phenomenon, and as we know, the fishes tend to "follow the food", making this a case of the fishes learning (?) to adapt to a changing environment. And perhaps...maybe...the idea of fishes sort of having to constantly adjust to a changing physical (note I didn't say "chemical") environment could be some sort of "trigger", hidden deep in their genetic code, that perhaps stimulates overall health, immunity or spawning?

Something in their "programing" that says, "Your at home..." Triggering specific adaptive behaviors?


I find this possibility fascinating, because we can learn more about our fishes' behaviors, and create really interesting habitats for them simply by adding botanicals to our aquariums and allowing them to  "do their own thing"- to break apart as they decompose, move about as we change water or conduct maintenance activities, or add new pieces from time to time.

By accepting and embracing these changes and little "evolutions", we're helping to create really great captive representations of the compelling wild systems we love so much!

Leaf litter beds, in particular, tend to evolve the most, as leaves are among the most "ephemeral" or transient of botanical materials we use in our aquariums.  This is true in Nature, as well, as materials break down or are moved by currents, the structural dynamics of the features change.

We have to adapt a new mindset when aquascaping with leaves- that being, the 'scape will "evolve" on its own and change constantly...Other than our most basic hardscape aspects- rocks and driftwood- the leaves and such will not remain exactly where we place them.

To the "artistic perfectionist"-type of aquascaper, this will be maddening.

To the aquarist who makes the mental shift and accepts this "wabi-sabi" idea (yeah, I'm channeling Amano here...) the experience will be fascinating and enjoyable, with an ever-changing aquascape that will be far, far more "natural" than anything we could ever hope to conceive completely by ourselves.

Yeah, those "mental shifts" again.

It's all about understanding what happens in Nature, and appreciating how it also occurs- on a miniature scale- in our aquariums. I believe that the "material changes" which occur so often in our botanical-style natural aquariums provide us with fascinating and precious opportunities to witness the lifestyles and behaviors of our fishes in ways we have previously not seen, or perhaps appreciated-before.

Social behaviors, feeding, and even spawning events are affected as much by the spatial-physical environments in which our fishes reside as they are by the chemical aspects of the water. And the internal mechanisms and instincts which our fishes utilize to exist in their environment are as much a part of their existence as the very water which comprises their world.

Keep that in mind the next time your carefully-arranged botanical bed gets "redistributed" by an influx of new water during an exchange, or a haphazard pass of the algae scraper...or even by the errant whims of those damn cichlids!

It's not something to freak out about.

Rather, it's something to celebrate! Life, in all of it's diversity and beauty, still needs a stage upon which to perform...and you're helping provide it, even with this "remodeling" of your aquascape taking place daily. Stuff gets moved. Stuff gets covered in biofilm.

Stuff breaks down. In our aquairums, and in Nature.

Embrace whatever moves your scape forward...

Kind of neat when you look at it from that angle, huh?

Stay thoughtful. Stay fascinated. Stay curious. Stay creative. Stay engaged. Stay chill...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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