Changing your water- and your mindset.

One of the interesting things about our botanical-style aquariums is that, when we embrace natural processes, the aquariums function- and LOOK more natural, too. Now, it seems kind of funny to say this, but it's true. 

When we consider the influences which act upon our aquariums, the idea makes more sense.

Check out underwater videos and photos of environments such as the flooded forests and streams of the Amazonian region, and you'll see that your botanical-style aquarium is a much closer aesthetic approximation of Nature than almost any other type of system you've worked with before. Because of the way it's composed and maintained.

This is a significant thing, really.

And, to your comfort, you'll find that these aquariums, loaded with leaves and botanical materials though they may be, are as biologically stable as any other if you follow regular maintenance- and common sense. This is a significant thing. We have to get it out of our heads that the "look" of our tanks, in terms of the tinted water, biofilms and fungal growths, etc., does not imply that they are somehow "dirtier" than other types of aquarium systems.


So, what's the most important maintenance practice that we can employ for our botanical-style aquariums?

(No surprise here) WATER EXCHANGES!!

So. what’s a good water changing regimen?

I’d love to see you employ a 10% exchange per week...It’s what I’ve used for decades, and it’s served me- and my animals- very well! Easier still would be to employ two 5% water exchanges twice weekly. Way easier than you think, and has the added advantage of keeping you in intimate contact with your tank on a very frequent basis. And, when you’re changing water, you could easily complete a few other regular maintenance tasks at the same time with a minimum of extra time and effort.

Regardless of how frequently you change your water, just do it consistently. In fact, I’ll humbly borrow a tag line from Nike to tell you to “Just do it...”

And of course, this inevitably leads to the topic of siphoning. How much "stuff" do you remove? Doesn't it disturb the leaf litter/botanical bed?And SHOULD you even remove anything from this area?

I'm going to argue that we shouldn't!

Well, here's why I feel that you don't really want to go crazy and siphon out all of the "stuff" in your leaf litter/botanical bed. It's about the diverse life forms we foster in these beds. Much like in Nature, leaf and botanical beds host an enormous population of fauna, ranging from fungal growth to other microorganisms, and small crustaceans.

These organisms, as we've discussed repeatedly, not only form a part of the "food chain" within our captive ecosystems- they also offer huge benefits to the aquarium as a means to process and export nutrients from within the botanical-style aquarium.


When we disturb this layer of materials with aggressive siphoning and stirring, and remove decomposing leaves and detritus, not only are we invading the "homes" of these organisms, we are potentially removing their food sources as well, and disrupting the very processes which keep our systems stable and biologically viable for extended periods of time. The entire botanical-style aquarium is a living, breathing entity, in which a variety of organisms are dependent upon-and support- each other.

Now, during water exchanges, it's inevitable that some stuff gets shifted around.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Don't get stressed if you stir some stuff up. Your tank will be fine.

Think about the natural leaf litter beds, and the processes which influence their composition, structure and resilience. Many litter beds are long-term static features in their natural habitats. Almost like reefs in the ocean, actually. Yet, there is a fair amount of material being shifted around constantly by current, rain, flooding, and the activities of fishes.

Yeah, stuff does get disturbed and redistributed.

The organisms which reside in these systems deal with these dynamics effectively. They have for eons.

The benthic microfauna which our fishes tend to feed on also are affected by this phenomenon, and as mentioned above, 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, "You're 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.

Again, much like Nature.

So, yes- the maintenance practice of water exchanges which we employ in our aquariums not only benefits our fishes in well-documented ways- it also replicates the processes which occur in Nature on a most realistic level.

Nothing we've mentioned here is earth-shattering or "revolutionary", from an aquarium husbandry standpoint. However, seeing that for many hobbyists, this is their first experience at managing a botanical-style blackwater aquarium, and with tons of conflicting information out there discussing concepts like breaking down a tank after a few months, I think it's not a bad idea to review this sort of stuff from time to time!

In natural, botanical-style aquariums, seldom are big moves or corrections required. Rather, it's really a combination of little things, done consistently over time, which will see your aquarium thrive in the long run. Like water changes. 

It's about adopting a different way of looking at things. It's about seeing our aquariums as diverse, dynamic, interdependent microcosms, in which all sorts of influences exerted upon them help drive growth, health- and change.

Mental shifts, once again.

That's the name of the game.

Today's simple thought.

Stay consistent. Stay observant. Stay diligent. Stay informed...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


April 04, 2023

I am struggling to find in your text the reason to actually do water changes. If we want to create a kind of enclosed ecosystem style aquarium where (big) changes and removal of litter should be avoided, why bother doing the water changes? I mean, I get why topping water back till certain levels make sense due to evaporation and what not. I however don’t yet understand why the changes are necessary.

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