It starts with leaves...

My botanical/blackwater obsession started with leaves...

I'm very happy to see so many hobbyists embracing the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium. Not just because, hey- like, I have company that sells stuff for it- but because it's an area of the hobby that was really relegated to "novelty" status for so long, with the mainstream aquarium hobby not really seeing much value in it beyond a "that's different..." mindset.

Now, we're seeing a lot of research by hobbyists into the best way to incorporate botanicals into their aquariums. Many are playing with the idea of a leaf litter zone- something that was given little more than a passing bit of attention a few years ago, if that. This sudden increase in attention to this environmental niche is reaping benefits for those who have played with it. Leaves are sort of the "gateway drug", if you will, into our world.

In nature, leaf litter zones comprise one of the richest and most diverse biotopes in the tropical aquatic ecosystem, yet they are seldom replicated in the aquarium. I think this has been due, in large part- to the lack of continuous availability of products for the hobbyist to work with, and a real understanding about what this biotope is all about- not to mention, the understanding of the practicality of creating one in the aquarium.

The thought behind this biotope can best be summarized in this interesting except from an academic paper on Amazonian Blackwater leaf-litter communities by biologist Peter Alan Henderson, that is useful for those of us attempting to replicate these communities in our aquaria:

" within the litter is not a crowded, chaotic scramble for space and food. Each species occupies a sub-region defined by physical variables such as flow and oxygen content, water depth, litter depth and particle size…

...this subtle subdivision of space is the key to understanding the maintenance of diversity. While subdivision of time is also evident with, for example, gymnotids hunting by night and cichlids hunting by day, this is only possible when each species has its space within which to hide.”

In other words, different species inhabit different sections of the leaf litter, and we should consider this when creating and stocking our biotope systems...Neat stuff!


So, beyond just creating an aggregation of material which imparts tannins and humic substances into the water, we're creating a little habitat, every bit as interesting, diverse, and complex as any other we attempt to replicate. In the aquarium, you need to consider both practicality AND aesthetics when replicating this biotope. 

A biotope that deserves your attention and study, indeed.

I encourage every "tinter" to experiment with a leaf litter-zone themed aquarium at some point! You’ll be surprised how far you can take the biotope concept, especially if you strive to be completely true to the niche you’re modeling and aspire to only keep animals found in that niche!

Most important, it’s fun…

This is, after all, a hobby, and hobbies are a vehicle by which we express ourselves. And the neat thing about a leaf litter tank is that each one is different, texturally, aesthetically...and even functionally. The concept is simple, the execution rather straightforward...and the benefits manifold.

Try one!

Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay resourceful.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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