It probably didn't occur to your that many of the botanicals which we offer are not only attractive to use in Aquascaping- they just happen to be really tasty to a lot of animals as well!
In particular, shrimp.
Yeah, the Neocaridina, Halocaridina, etc.
Now, many of the shrimps that we keep in the hobby come from streams in Southeast Asia, an environment that has significant tree growth and overhead foliage. Naturally, leaves, seed pods, and fruits fall into these streams and begin to decompose, creating blackwater conditions, with humic and tannic acids building in the water, reducing the pH and hardness in the process.
These materials are utilized by the shrimp as a grazing "substrate"- they will rasp epiphytic matter, such as algal growths, biofilms, fungal filaments from the surfaces of the leaves and such. In addition, many of these materials will be consumed directly, such as leaves and some seed pods with softer interiors.
And of course, along comes little old us and our collection of leaves and twigs and stuff, and you find yourself faced with an array of materials to keep your little shrimp pals happy!
This wasn't a coincidence!
The real "limiting factor", in my opinion, with the use of botanicals in a shrimp aquarium is the issue of creating stable environmental parameters and maintaining high water quality. In smaller aquarium, such as are typical for shrimp, the impact of ANYTHING we place in them on the environment is potentially critical. Go slowly and monitor.
In a small shrimp aquarium, the influx of a large amount of organic material into a small, but established, stable environment can degrade water quality rapidly, and create a possible ammonia spike or other nasty problems! Again, it's about going SLOWLY!
As far as what shrimp will consume, my experience with my own shrimp and aquatic botanicals is that they will graze on ANYTHING that recruits biofilm and/or algae, and actually physically consume many of the botanicals which have softer internal components to them.
There are literally dozens and dozens of products, including things like dried leaves and other botanicals (some of which we carry), marketed as (supplemental) shrimp feeds...and I think it's entirely correct and accurate to label them as such. Granted, it's hard to say what exactly the shrimp are consuming of the actual botanicals, and what nutrition they're deriving from the various seed pods, etc. that we offer.
The "shrimp side" of the hobby reminds me in some ways of the coral part of the reef keeping hobby where I spend considerable time (both personally and professionally) working and interacting with the community. There are some incredibly talented shrimp people out there; many doing amazing work and sharing their expertise and experience with the hobby, to everyone's benefit!
Now, there are also a lot of people out their in that world who make some (and this is just my opinion...) some "stretches" about products and such and what they can do and why they are supposedly great for shrimp. I see a lot of this in the "food" sector of that hobby, where manufacturers of various foods extoll the virtues of different products and natural materials because they have certain attributes, such as vitamins and amino acids and such, valuable to human nutrition, which are also known to be beneficial to shrimp.
And that's fine, but where it gets a bit anecdotal, or - let's call it like I see it- "sketchy"- is when read the descriptions about stuff like leaves and such on vendors websites which cater to these animals making very broad and expansive claims about their benefits, based simply on the fact that shrimp seem to eat them, and that they contain substances and compounds known to be beneficial for shrimp health.
I just wonder if we stretch and assert too much?
I'm not saying that it's bad to make inferences (we do it all the time with various topics- but we qualify them with stuff like, "it could be possible that.." or "I wonder if..."), but I can't stand when absolute assertions are made without any qualification that, just because this leaf has some compound which is part of a family of compounds that are thought to be useful to shrimp that it's a perfect food for them.
I hope I'm not out there adding to the confusion!
All is not lost, of course...
Here's the deal.
Leaves like Guava, Mulberry, etc. ARE ravenously consumed by fishes. It's known by scientific analysis that they do contain compounds like Vitamins B1, B2, B6, and Vitamin C, as well as carbohydrates, fiber, amino acids, and elements such as Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc, Iron, and Calcium...all important for many organisms, including shrimp.
The thing that gets me curious is that most leaves and botanicals contain compounds like those; the real question I have is exactly how "available" they are to shrimp from a nutritional standpoint. And how "nutrient dense" these leaves and botanicals are? Do shrimp easily assimilate all they need in every bite, or do they have to eat tons of the stuff to derive any of these benefits? I mean, we as hobbyists sort of figure that if these things are present in the botanicals than the shrimp get a dose of them in every bite, right?
And that's the part where I say, I don't know. I mean, it seems to make a lot of sense to me...However, is there some definitive scientific information out there...
I did some research online (that internet thing just might catch on...) and learned that in aquaculture of shrimp, a tremendous variety of vegetables, fruits, etc. are utilized, and many offer good nutritional profiles for shrimp, in terms of protein, amen acids, etc. In fact, other than sorting through mind-numbing numbers ( .08664, etc) on various amino acid concentration of say, Mulberry leaves versus say, Sugar Beets, or whatever, there are not huge differences making any one food superior to all others, at least from my very cursory examination!
What is interesting is that some foodstuffs, such as various seeds, root vegetables, etc. DO have different levels of elements such as calcium and phosphorous, and widely varying crude protein. Now, I have no idea what some of the seed pods we offer as botanicals contain in terms of protein or amino acids, but one can make some huge over-generalizations that one seed/fruit is somewhat similar to others, in terms of basic amino acids, vitamins, trace elements, etc. (gulp).
So, the bottom line is that, if you're into shrimp, you'd be in pretty good shape to utilize most of the botanicals we offer, as long as you go slowly, prepare them for use, and apply a healthy dose of common sense and environmental parameter monitoring during their use.
And one "assumption" you probably can safely make..If you shrimp are consuming them, they must at least like the taste of 'em, right?
At the end of the day, it's all about our experimentation and use of the many botanicals available to us that will help us determine our hobby "best practices." We can infer a lot from nutritional profiles of various greens and such, but in the end, it will only be through this use in the "real world" that we'll be able to definitively know which botanicals really work best for our little shrimp!
Stay curious. Stay experimental. Stay resourceful. Stay skeptical. Stay diligent...
And Stay Wet.