What an interesting time to be in this hobby!
It's truly amazing that we're looking at many long-held beliefs, practices, and even suppositions within the hobby- and asking ourselves "why?"
NOT for the sole purpose of trying to "disrupt" or "upend the status quo" or whatever. Rather, because some of the beliefs and practices that we've adhered to for a century or so in the hobby might not be the ONLY way to approach things...and in fact, might actually be somewhat counter-productive.
It's very hard for many hobbyists to step out of the "mainstream" and openly question this stuff, or even experiment with alternatives. Many fear criticism from our peers- or worse yet, dire consequences for our fishes as a result of "going rogue." I mean, there is a reason why we've been indoctrinated over the years to avoid accumulating detritus, algae, etc.
For the vast majority of aquarium applications, following these "doctrines" is absolutely the right thing to do, and gives us a good "baseline" set of practices that likely create good outcomes in the widest variety of situations. However, a healthy questioning about why we do things, and wondering if there is a better way is never a bad thing, IMHO.
Not long ago, our friend, the extremely talented Rene Claus, posed an interesting thought about feeding our fishes. He indicated that he skips feeding of his fishes for extended periods of time to encourage them to utilize natural food sources in his aquariums. He wonders if there may very well be a benefit to this practice.
I think he's on to something.
I mean, feeing our fishes multiple time a day is great for "conditioning" for spawning and probably for "forcing" rapid growth, and to help sick or injured fishes recover from illness or the rigors of transport...but is it always the "best practice?" Do fishes need to be fed multiple times a day with really rich foods?
I mean, it's long been known that fishes will just eat until they can barely swim. Is this healthy? Is this some sort of "instinctive" behavior that says "Hey- FOOD! Eat up NOW-because there might no be any later!"? (I doubt it's that complete a "thought", but you know what I mean...). I just can't help wonder if fishes simply eat like mad because- well- it's there.
Now, before I get jumped on from all corners with people thinking I'm suggesting starvation and such...All I'm doing is pondering and asking questions. In nature, fishes spend a significant amount of time and energy searching for food, right?
In Amazonian floodplains, for example, the flood cycle of the rivers into the igarapes are the dominant seasonal factor, and fish communities are found to fluctuate greatly over the year. During inundation, fish migrate into floodplain forests to feed on insects, fruits and seeds, among other things.
Studies of blackwater communities showed that, during these cycles, a greater diversity of fishes exists there. Many species were found to be specialized feeders. Fish, detritus and insects were the most important food resources supporting the fish community in both high and low water seasons, but the proportions of fruits, invertebrates and fish were reduced during the low water season.
Are there some "takeaways" here for us fish geeks?
Hmm, what this means to us is that fish sort of "follow the food", right? And that the "seasonal availability" of some food sources actually dictates overall fish behavior.
Would it make sense to alter our feeding habits to mimic these natural occurrences and cycles? In other words, feed a correspondingly more frequent, more intensive diet of say, worms, fruit flies, or Daphnia in a period of time that corresponds with the wet season? And then, perhaps reducing frequency, quantity, and variety of foods at other times- perhaps even doing a several week-long "hiatus" or two, to encourage them to forage on the biocover and natural foods you have encouraged to accumulate within the aquarium?
Is there a benefit to increasing or decreasing the amount and type of botanicals and leaves corresponding with these cycles? Would these practices be a "hardship" for fishes....or, would this attempt at replicating their natural feeding "cycles" in our aquariums lead to other behaviors...like spawning?
Further, would environmental manipulation, like altering the pH, flow, temperature, in conjunction with the "food cycle" be an ultimate trigger for reproduction of fishes? Hobbyists have been manipulating temperature and water chemistry for decades to get fishes "in the mood" for spawning- nothing really new here. However, doing that in conjunction with more specialized feeding (rather than just pounding them with a continuous flow of food) could yield some interesting results!
Again, some of you might simply be thinking, "Why go to all of this effort? We feed our fishes a lot all the time, condition them for spawning...and it works!" To which I respond:"You're 100% right."
However, what if we can do better?
Encouraging more frequent reproduction, or induce spawning in fishes that historically have been difficult or even thought to be impossible to spawn? What if it yields longer reproductive life spans. What if these practices play to the evolutionary adaptations of our fishes to their advantage? Could these practices result in more healthy fishes- or actually be counterproductive? I think the former, but it could be interesting to know.
Once again, we're questioning our age-old practices not to be a pain in the ass...rather, to see if what we're doing IS truly the best practice, and to see if there might be a better way. A more natural way. One which ties in with the way we manage our aquariums as a whole- botanical-style or otherwise. All of these things are potentially interrelated, and all of them are worth taking a look at with a fresh perspective.
The big winners here: The fishes, the hobby, the hobbyist..and of course, the natural habitats-because if we understand how fishes and their habitats are intertwined and related, we will have a better understanding of the need to protect and preserve these priceless ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.
A lot to think about when you reach for that can of pellets this afternoon, but interesting nonetheless, I think. And potentially evolutionary.
Stay curious. Stay persistent. Stay objective. Stay relentless in your pursuit of knowledge.
And Stay Wet.