Function. Form. Aquascaping. Fishes.

Ever thought about this?

Hobbyists put this huge amount of time and energy into trying to achieve a perfect "natural-looking" placement for wood and other hardscape materials in our aquariums   when the reality is that, in nature, it's decidedly random- based upon forces such as weather, current, water depth, substrate composition, etc. Things which, although might have some degree of predictability (i.e.; tides or seasonal rains) may have unpredictable effects on the aquatic habitats.


Yet, we collectively spend many hours as fish geeks in the pursuit of "natural looking", while applying high-level artistic technique and tradecraft to our work. Nothing wrong with that, IMHO. I mean sure, it's an enjoyable pursuit for many, but I find this delicious irony in the fact that we've created such a set of "rules" and "practices" on how to create our interpretations on a natural-looking aquatic habitat.

I'd just like to see us apply the same level of dedication to really understanding and replicating the "function" of nature in relation to its appearance, and embracing the random nature of its structure.

Is there not also beauty in "randomness", despite our near-obsessive pursuit of rules, such as "golden ratio", color aggregating, etc? Just because last year's big 'scaping contest winner had the "perfect" orientation, ratios, and alignment of the (insert this year's trendiest wood here) branch within the tank, doesn't mean it's a real representation of the natural functionality of "randomness." 

In other words, just because it looks good, it doesn't mean it's what nature looks like.

And ask yourself, honestly- isn't this what aquarists like Amano were really trying to stress, rather than preaching the rigid adherence to some "formula" of hardscape placement? Could we be placing too much emphasis on the practice of embracing rigid rules of Iwagumi rock placement, and not enough on stuff like the philosophy of "Wabi-Sabi"- a celebration of the transience of nature- which, IMHO represents Amano's greatest gift to the hobby?

Can't you see the beauty in replicating scenes like this one, rather than just last year's high-placing competition diorama scape?

Any random stream in nature contains inspiration and ideas which we can apply to our aquascapes, without having to overthink it. Sure, even the simple act of placing a piece of wood in our tanks requires some consideration...

However, it think a lot of it boils down to what we are placing the emphasis on. Perhaps it's less about perfect placement of materials for artistic purposes, and more about placing materials to facilitate more natural function and interactions between fishes and their environment.

With the really great variety of wood available these days to the everyday hobbyist, I'd dare make the almost "heretical" assertion that you can pretty much grab virtually any decent piece, or pieces- of of wood and create an incredibly satisfying, natural-looking scape. "Functional aquascaping" is as satisfying as any other form, IMHO.

Another major consideration with driftwood in our aquascapes is perhaps even more important than anything else, in my opinion: The "recruitment" of organisms (algae, biofilms, plants, etc.) in, on, and among the matrix of wood structures we create, and the "integration" of the wood into other "soft components" of the aquascape- leaves and botanicals.

This is an area that has been worked on by hobbyists rather infrequently over the years- mainly by biotope-lovers. However, embracing the "mental shift" we've talekd about so much here- simply allowing the growth of beneficial biocover, decomposition, tinted water, etc.- is, in our opinion, the "portal" to unlocking the many secrets of nature in the aquarium.

We don't really have to execute on this part...nature takes over.

The knowledge that we as aquarium hobbyists gain by researching, replicating, and maintaining systems that are a more realistic functional representation of nature is priceless. Unlocking the secrets of fish interactions, composition of the population, and parameters of the environment itself is key to spawning and maintaining numerous species of fishes, so that future generations may enjoy them in the wild.

So, my thinking is that we should ask ourselves why the wild aquatic environments look the way they do, and how they function. We can formulate new ways to replicate them, and to create sustainable aquarium habitats for the fishes that we treasure so much. I believe that we shouldn't over-think the "look" as much as we consider the functions of the work we're creating.

And the big winners? The fishes. The natural habitat. And the hobby.

Not bad.

Stay bold. Stay creative. Stay inspired. Stay excited...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment