Letting nature take over? What's your thinking?


Every once in a while, I muse about different approaches to our blackwater/botanical-style aquariums; how to manage them to achieve different outcomes, etc.

Today, instead of a long rant or deep blog, I just wanted to get your thoughts on this thing that's been in my head for a while...

We're all about diligent, thoughtful maintenance of our aquariums, right? I mean, we spend a lot of time, money, and energy equipping our tanks with suitable gear, embracing excellent practices, and just stay on top of everything, in general. That's part of being an engaged, responsible fish geek, right?

So, what happens to our tanks if we sort of "let them go" a bit? Especially, a botanical-style blackwater aquarium with a "deep leaf litter bed" or lots of botanicals? Let's say that we stop doing weekly water exchanges and slip to say, once a month. Let's say all we're doing is topping off for evaporation during that time period, feeding fishes; that's about it.

What will happen?

Will all of the botanical material continue to break down, keeping the water "tinted?" Will biofilms continue to colonize open surfaces? Will water chemistry swing wildly?  Will phosphate and nitrate accumulate rapidly?Will the aquarium descend into chaos? Or, will it simply continue to function as usual?

I mean, when you think about it, the botanical-style blackwater aquarium is sort of set up to replicate a natural habitat where all of this stuff is taking place already. Leaves, seed pods, etc. are more-or-less ephemeral in nature, and are constantly breaking down in these environments.

How much more will things change by simply delaying water exchanges for several weeks? By not siphoning detritus? Will this really become some sort of problem? Or, will the bacteria, fungal growths, and other microorganisms and crustacean life living in our botanical substrates continue to do what they do- break down organic waste and reproduce?

I can't help but wonder if a botanical-style blackwater aquarium can better handle a period of "benign neglect" than many typical systems...Not that I'd want to do this, mind you... I'm a fairly diligent/borderline obsessive maintenance guy. I like my weekly water exchanges. But I can't help but wonder what happens in one of these systems if we let "nature take it's course" for a while? 

An interesting question...and perhaps an interesting experiment for the intrepid hobbyist. Don't ask me why this was on my mind this morning!

I open the discussion up to you.

Stay open-minded. Stay curious. Stay observant. Stay diligent.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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