Dropping botanicals and rising possibilities: Repleneshment, accumulation, decomposition and the promise of "functional aesthetics!"

Although our botanical-style aquariums are not "set-and-forget" systems, and require basic maintenance (water exchanges, regular water testing, filter media replacement/cleaning), they do have one unique "requirement" as part of their ongoing maintenance which other types of aquariums seem to not have: Topping off of botanicals as they break down.

It's a regular thing; almost a revered, ritualistic sort of thing among us hardcore botanical-style aquarium freaks. The topping off of botanicals in your tank accomplishes a number of things: first, it creates a certain degree of environmental continuity- keeping things consistent from a "botanical capacity" standpoint. In addition, it keeps a consistent aesthetic vibe in your aquarium.

And it keeps you "in touch" more intimately with your aquarium, much in the same way a planted tank enthusiast would trimming plants, or a reefer making frags.

I dare say that he thing I enjoy doing most with my blackwater, botanical-style aquariums (besides just observing them, of course) is to "top off" the botanical supply from time to time. I fell that it not only gives me a sense of "actively participating" in the aquarium- it provides a sense that you're doing something nature has done fro eons.

Most bodies of water which meander through jungles and rain forests are constantly being "stocked" with leaves, seed pods, branches, and other botanical materials fro the surrounding vegetation- some of which are knocked into the water by weather, wind, animal activity etc. Depending upon the velocity of the water, it's depth, ec., they may aggregate where they fall, or be re-distributed downstream by current.

In fact, in Amazonia, biologists have observed floating leaf litter beds which last quite a long time, almost becoming "features" in the aquatic topography!

So imagine, if you will, a "classic" submerged leaf litter bed in Amazonia, composed of a variety of leaves, branches, twigs, seed pods, and other botanical materials...yet floating on the surface of the water surface! What you get is a fairly deep layer of plant materials colonized by fishes and other creatures, which forage on the macro invertebrate life found in these assemblages. Biologists call this an "ephemeral" habitat, as it is transitory or temporary as it slowly breaks apart. 

Okay, so it slowly breaks apart over months and months, and often, these floating or partially submerged leaf litter banks either accumulate among the branches of overhanging vegetation during the high water season, gradually floating downstream, or stay anchored in place by fallen tree trunks and other large materials, ultimately forming a more "traditional" submerged leaf litter bed as they sink.

Nonetheless, I found this an irresistibly interesting niche! Reminds me of the Sargassum "forests" of the Caribbean and Tropical West Atlantic! Literal "floating feasts" for the animals which reside there!

And, many fish species associate with these floating litter banks for the entire wet season, and one of the reasons they stay put is because their food sources are there, too! In fact, a species of "water bug", Weberiella rhomboides, is found almost exclusively in these floating banks, attracting large numbers of insectivorous fishes, like characins, catfishes, knife fishes, and others. 

Sure, I digressed a bit...What else is new?

The point is, the wild habitats are constantly evolving, accumulating new materials, and creating new physical habitats for fishes to forage among. New food sources and chemical/energy inputs are important to the biological diversity and continuity of the flooded forests and streams of the tropics.

And the phenomenon is not limited to forests, of course. We see the same thing occurring in "mangals"- habitats in which mangroves dominate.

I've already seen this phenomenon of leaves dropping naturally (and supplemented by me as well) in my mangrove inspired brackish-water aquarium. It's been up and running for months now, and we see a lot of this type of "evolution" occurring daily.

Perhaps one of the more completely "functionally aesthetic" aquariums I've built in many years, the brackish tank has really put this function front and center, giving me a "ringside seat" of an evolving brackish microcosm!

Leaves fall, break down, and become a food resource and physical shelter for the fishes and animals which reside in the aquaria, just like in nature.

And of course, the idea of botanicals accumulating in our aquariums, impacting bot the biological diversity and function of them, is a big part about what the excitement of the botanical-style aquarium is all about!

It's not just the unique aesthetics...It's the function that they bring- and the possibilities that accompany them!

We're at a phase where enough people have gotten through the "Will this kill my fish?" part of the equation, and we've now moved on to "How can I facilitate maximum benefits to my fishes with a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium?"

It's a time for great experimentation. Discovery. And the chance to provide our fishes with what might be the most natural simulation of nature possible.

And YOU are right in the thick of it! 

Stay involved. Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay diligent. Stay curious...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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